A death row inmate, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), is whisked away to a shadowy research facility just moments after his supposed execution. The Templars, a secret society headed up by Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter Sofia (Marion Cotillard), want to use Lynch’s ‘genetic memories’ to track down the Apple of Eden, a magical MacGuffin that contains the key to freewill. No really, it does. Callum is plugged into the Animus, a big VR machine at the end of a big robot arm that lets him relive the memories of his ancestors. Parkour ensues.
There isn’t exactly a long line of successful films that were based on video games, adapting something from a console to a the cinema has always seemed to be an impossible task. Last year’s Warcraft: The Beginning seemed like it might actually buck the trend, but despite being quite good fun it didn’t really set the box office alight. Can Assassins Creed, based on the staggeringly popular series of Ubisoft games, break the cycle and be a decent video game adaptation or will things go all Super Mario Bros?
I’ve put quite a few hours into the Assassins Creed series of games, although I must admit I have lost interest in the last few years. Assassins Creeds: Piratey Fun (real name Assassins Creed: Black Flag) was just a little bit too much for me. Still, I have got some kind of connection to the franchise having put tens, if not hundreds of hours into the series as a whole. I say this to emphasise just how much I wanted this movie to be good. The cast is good (a central trio Fassbender, Irons and Cotillard is a strong start), Michael Fassbender is onboard as a producer and seems genuinely invested in the project and director Justin Kurzel did some really good work on 2015’s Macbeth (also starring Fassbender and Cotillard).
Sadly, I don’t think Assassins Creed exactly breaks the cycle of poor films based on computer games. It’s fair to say that this is definitely one of the better video game adaptations, but that is pretty much the definition of damning it with faint praise. I think the biggest problem that I had was that this tries to be a little bit too reverential to the source material, and assumes a certain degree of knowledge on the part of the viewer. One of the biggest complaints I had with the games was that the historical bits, where the player was plugged into the Animus (the big VR ancestor history-o-matic), were by far the most fun and most interesting parts of the game. Anything set in the present day was rather boring by comparison, filled with po-faced sci-fi nonsense. Unfortunately, the game follows this trend. All of the scenes that focused on Callum’s ancestor Aguilar de Nerha, in 15th century Constantinople was interesting and brilliantly choreographed. However, when the action shifts back to the present day…well action is a strong word. Things just get a lost muddier, and less engaging. One of the most interesting twists of the video games was finding out that the historical action was all part of a simulation, a twist that might have actually worked well on the big-screen. It seems that the film was made with the gamers in mind and so didn’t want to drop the same twist that they’d already seen. This would be understandable if the film didn’t repeatedly revisit things that were incredibly familiar from the original games.
The characters in the film are not particularly well fleshed out. For example, we don’t really know much about our hero. We first get introduced to Callum as a child, then the next thing we see is when he is about to be executed. There’s not really much explanation of why he’s on death row (something to do with killing a pimp) or what kind of person he actually is, this makes later revelations and plot twists slightly less interesting because he just seems to do things with no real motivation or reasoning as to why. It’s not just Callum who is poorly drawn either, Jeremy Irons plays Rikkins as a fairly standard villain, and Sofia (Marion Cotillard) has issues with her dad, but that’s about it. We get introduced to other people at the futuristic Animus facility but I can’t actually remember their names, or much about them. They’re just people who show up to either deliver a funny line, do a bit of action or both.
I think that this had got all of the key elements to make a good film, but it’s just so messy that it is hard to really recommend it. It seems like the film has tried to aim right down the middle of attracting new viewers whilst also giving plenty of knowing winks to hardcore fans. The result is something that is not particularly accessible or particularly interesting. The story itself is a bit of a muddle and it’s not entirely clear as to why characters do the things that they do. Things just seem to happen for no other reason than pushing the narrative forwards. I left the film not being able to remember any of the characters’ names, and but for the grace of IMDB I’d have really struggled.
It’s not all bad though. Once Callum is in the Animus things get a lot more interesting. I have no real idea of who anyone was, what they were doing or why they were doing it but the action was brilliantly choreographed.
Assassins Creed is not a terrible film by any means, and compared to other video game adaptations it is actually doing rather well. That said, it’s just such a confusing mess in terms of its plot and characters.