Review Format: Cinema
Theatrical Release: 21st of December 2016
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons
Sorry people, the video game movie curse has not been broken. Assassin’s Creed seems to be the most honest attempt in recent memory (outside of Warcraft) to make a video game movie that respects its source material while attempting to make an adaptation that still feels fresh. Assassin’s Creed certainly puts forth the effort and attempts to be a franchise-worthy adaptation of a video game series and while it may not accomplish this goal in a way that’ll be satisfactory for everyone, there’s still enjoyment to be had for series veterans from the interesting world, great visuals, entertaining action sequences, and for those who are simply Michael Fassbender fans.
Unfortunately, it appears that with director Justin Kurzel and the AC screenwriters’ commitment to the source material, they were stuck with setting up a complex (and pretty confusing) world to the audience while still attempting to provide an engaging story and interesting characters. Although the movie is almost 2 and a half hours, the story moves at such a rapid-feeling pace that everything feels somewhat short-changed overall.
The plot is somewhat confusing and awfully convoluted (especially for those who have no background knowledge of the series) throughout the run time. The game series certainly is no different, but at least the game has 20+ hours to elaborate on character motivations, the story, and the central themes. The movie begins with a setting up of the Assassin’s order, introduces Fassbender’s Callum Lynch and introduces the audience to Abstergo, the company responsible for Lynch getting ‘connected’ with his ancestor.
The story ticks the usual boxes of the games (Golden Apple, Templars, historical periods, Leaps of Faith) and feels very much like Assassin’s Creed. Seeing Lynch progress from unsuspecting prisoner to full-on assassin is an engaging and interesting transformation, albeit a bit rushed. The sections within the Animus (much like the games) are the most interesting parts as they’re where the movie’s visuals are the most stunning and the fight scenes are the most intense. These are the scenes in which you see Aguilar (Lynch’s ancestorial assassin) and his group of assassins take part in a foiling of a kidnap attempt on a prince in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition. These sequences are far less heavy on the plot, but they provide the movie’s few stand-out action sequences (that are a little too over-edited and choppy at times). Plot-wise, they serve their purpose and help allow Fassbender’s character to grow and settle into who he really is.
In the present-day, things aren’t quite as satisfactory. This is where the majority of the movie takes place, so that will likely bother a number of viewers who would rather the entire movie took place in the past. However, I understood that they made this controversial decision to give the character of Callum a chance to grow, as well as a means of setting up potential plots and characters up for any potential sequel. The sections in present-day are much more gradual and slow-paced, leading to many scenes in which either Marion Cotillard or Jeremy Irons’ character explain something else about Abstergo or the in-movie universe as a whole. It’s interesting enough, but certain plot elements, I feel, could’ve been done in a more engaging or intriguing way than simply explaining it in 1 on 1 conversation.
No spoilers, but the ending definitely sets up for a sequel (no mid-credits scene here), but unlike the games where the sequel path was clear and obvious, this one isn’t quite as clear. If the film gets another chance with a sequel, we shall see what the writers come up with, but for now, it’s not quite clear what is in store.
There’s also one nitpick that I have about the action scenes in the movie: there’s very little blood and true amount of grittiness to the fights. While the necessity of minimizing blood to ensure that the movie gets a PG-13 rating is obvious and not necessarily a problem, it’s awfully distracting when characters get their throats cut presumably and there’s no visible sign of blood or mark on the person. This leads to a discrepancy between the action and the audience as it feels too much like this movie was ‘cleansed’ to meet the rating standards, leading to fight scenes that don’t feel as hard-hitting or personal as they should.
Visually, Assassin’s Creed is a great-looking film, especially within the Animus sequences. The present-day sections, while a lot less colorful and vibrant, still look nice and the seamless use of CGI is stunning, especially considering I can’t tell where CGI was really used outside of some dream-like sequences. Special shout-out to Fassbender, Ariane Labed (the main assassin alongside Fassbender’s Aguilar) and the entire stunt team for the incredible stunts that were on-display throughout the movie. Even for those who weren’t big fans of the movie should offer up some praise for the clearly hard-working people who helped bring the assassins to life (they did a REAL Leap of Faith, come on!).
Overall, the plot is understandable, but undoubtedly has plenty of moments that will confuse some viewers (myself included) as they’re moments that are left unexplained. The scenes taking place within the Animus are the highlights of the film and offer up some great action sequences. Fassbender is the main highlight within the cast and is a part of each of the film’s best moments. Every other cast member does their part (with Jeremy Irons being his usual evil-type), with Marion Cotillard being the most developed of the crew (although even she doesn’t have a whole lot to work with either). The movie IS bogged down by a heavy amount of exposition, uninteresting side characters, and a confusing plot, leading to many of the film’s faults being made apparent (and hard to ignore). Assassin’s Creed is not the disaster that critics have made it out to be, but it has by no means broken the long-standing video game movie curse.