Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons
Director: Justin Kurzel
Running Time: 115 mins
Synopsis: Expecting to be executed criminal Callum Lynch (Fassbender) instead awakens in a strange facility run by scientist Dr Rikkin (Cotillard) who informs Callum that he is a descendant of notable assassin Anguilar from the Spanish Inquisition. She sends him back into the mind of his ancestor through the use of the Animus machine, in order to track down a missing artefact that her father (Irons) seeks, the Apple of Eden.
After repeated failings the video game movie adaptation is in pretty poor health. 2016s Warcraft only added to the scrapheap of listless dull films that should be buried deep down alongside all the Atari ET games in the New Mexico desert. But hope appeared to be on the horizon, an adaptation of Ubisoft’s hugely successful Assassin’s Creed game series. This one had the immeasurable talents of Fassbender, Cotillard and Irons to name a few, alongside the directorial leadership of Justin Kurzel. Fresh off his critical success with 2015s elemental visceral MacBeth adaptation, one that also showcased the immense talents of Creed’s two lead stars. The early trailers were iffy but the visuals looked gritty and exciting, plus in its story of genetic manipulation it offered something a little different to the usually dull action driven video game genre. Unfortunately the results are flimsy, confusing and a bit of a slog.
Launching us into a historical flashback as we meet Fassbender’s Anguilar becoming indoctrinated into the Assassin’s Creed, it is clear from the subtitles and sombreness that Kurzel is going all in on the serious side rather than playing up the integral cheesiness of the concept. Lurching forward to 1986 and a young Callum witnessing the death of his mother via his fathers hand as a mysterious army of folks arrive to take him, it all starts to become a little confusing. Matters are not helped when we finally meet Callum as an older man on death row. A moody miserable fellow, a somewhat dull lead to follow despite Fassbender’s noble intentions, who is awaiting death for rather muddy reasons, something involving a pimp that is given no real focus at all. It turns out though that the execution was all a fake in order to capture Callum and use his DNA to trace his ancestors steps. Marion Cotillard’s Dr Rikkin is the leader of said project, unfortunately named the Animus (sounding more like an invasive rectum exam than a scientific breakthrough). Cotillard, as with Fassbender, tries her hardest but struggles to make the mumbo-jumbo science shit sound remotely plausible. Her cold delivery in the opening acts making her feel even more of a cipher than a fully fledged character. A third act turn into more sympathetic territory is too little too late to make her palatable.
As the Animus (hee hee*) launches Callum back into the past Kurzel finally lets off some sound and fury to kickstart proceedings. These scenes, filmed in Malta offering a tangible quality to the settings, are thrilling and handsomely shot. Kurzel handling the action with an energy that the present day scenes are sorely lacking, his camera a whirlwind presence flying through the action with aplomb. The fight scenes are bloodless (a sad consequence of the need to appeal to a broader audience) but incredibly violent, with snappy choreography and a committed team of stunt performers. In a move that genuinely bemuses me Kurzel and his cinematographer Adam Arkapaw elect to bathing all of these past scenes in a ridiculous amount of mist. Similar to the elemental nature of his MacBeth film, but with no good reason this time out. It means all of his good work at concocting gritty fight scenes are for nought when it’s impossible to see any of it. On the flipside the present day sequences are so so grey that it gives all the technical wizardry surrounding the Animus (haw haw*) a flatness that adds to the overwhelming misery of it all.
At no point does anyone appear to be having any fun. Micheal K Williams, as a fellow Assassin, is the only one to ever crack a smile but alas all his dialogue is awash with nonsensical babble. There is a fun idea to be mined here, a high concept notion of using ones DNA memory to harness the past but in making this all so serious you wind up laughing at it, well you would do if you weren’t so damn bored. I just don’t get what any of it means. We are meant to root for the Assassins but they are such a bunch of homicidal misery guts that you almost wish for them to die too. Also the less said about this films McGuffin, a clumsily named Apple of Eden that can alter free will or something, the better. At no point did I understand why this was so important or in fact what it can even do that I couldn’t have cared less if it was retrieved or not.
As we add Assassin’s Creed to the dogpile I think it is time to admit that straight adaptations of popular video games are impossible. In attempting to satisfy fans as well as appeal to non-believers most of them exist in a strange middle ground of appealing to none of them. The best video game movies aren’t even true adaptations, they exist as their own entities but are not shy of their influences. The Girl with all the Gifts with its brilliant version of The Last of Us, or Wreck-It-Ralph’s send up of multiple games, or Edge of Tomorrow with its repeated game overs being more akin to a video game itself. But if there is one lesson future computer game movies can learn from Assassin’s Creed, is that you really need to embrace the lunacy of it all and for God’s sake have some fun!
Verdict: A hopelessly drab and lacklustre game adaptation, barring some rousing action scenes and a decent cast trying their best. It once more offers evidence that video games, despite how cinematic they may be, do not make great cinema.