Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, Thematic Elements and brief Strong Language
Directed by: Justin Kurzel
Written by: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper & Bill Collage
(based on the video game ASSASSIN’S CREED by Ubisoft)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams, Ariane Labed & Matias Varela
Before diving into the nitty gritty of this review, it should be noted that I haven’t played a minute of the ASSASSIN’S CREED video games and am judging this purely as a film. To be perfectly honest, I walked into this movie blind and didn’t know what to expect from the plot at all. I simply went into theater wanting a cool action flick with some neat ideas. Though there are definitely a few neat ideas at work and three stellar action sequences, ASSASSIN’S CREED suffers from never reaching its full potential and wasting great talent (both on the screen and behind the scenes).
Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is a murderer facing his execution by lethal injection…only to awake in the mysterious Abstergo facility after he’s “died.” This strange corporation is heavily guarded, shrouded in secrecy and has a bunch of violence-prone individuals being subjected as human guinea pigs to a genetic scientific experiment. Scientist Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) wishes to use Callum to discover the key to world peace. She hopes to accomplish this by unethically forcing Callum to relive memories of a long-dead assassin ancestor in 1492 Spain and then using that knowledge to recover an ancient artifact known as “The Apple of Eden.” However, Sophia’s father Alan (Jeremy Irons) may have nefarious motives for possessing this powerful device. As Callum lives out centuries-old genetic memories, he finds himself becoming slowly gifted with extraordinary abilities and realizing that a creed of ancient assassins is still very much alive.
From what I can gather, this film follows a similar structure to the ASSASSIN’S CREED video games. However, this cinematic version of the story has a difficult time balancing the present and the centuries-old past storylines. This is especially a bummer, because both narratives have potential in different ways. The present-day scenes disappointingly come off as exposition-crammed filler between the past’s action that showcases a major conflict between the assassins and the Spanish Inquisition. If this movie had taken place entirely in the past, it might have been a hundred times better in quality. The three flashbacks/genetic memories are easily the film’s highlights, with the middle portion being a stellar chase sequence and sticking out as the best scene in the movie.
To further add insult to injury, CREED wastes a significant amount of time in repeating information that has already been shown to us. Even though it repeats certain plot points to the peak of annoyance, the script somehow manages to remain frustratingly vague in other key details of the storyline. We are told about the Apple of Eden in an opening text crawl, then it is reiterated in a prologue (rendering the opening text as totally useless), and then this information is repeated about three more times in the Abstergo building. Once or twice would have been enough to inform the viewer of this literal plot device, but this repetitive approach managed to make me feel like I was being treated like an idiot. The same can be said of Callum’s character, whose entire development hinges on a single incident from his past and a throwaway line of dialogue detailing the reason for his execution. The former is harped upon for about 15-20 minutes of screen time. A single memory doesn’t make for a well-developed protagonist, especially when his past ancestor is far more interesting.
The annoying repetition of information also occurs during the film’s (mostly) stellar action sequences, which feel the need to frequently cut back to Callum in the Animus (the genetic memory machine). Though this may have worked in the games(?), it feels like we’re just watching Callum play an extreme virtual reality game…as opposed to reliving memories of his long-dead assassin ancestor Aguilar de Nerha (also played by Fassbender). This effect slightly diminishes the enjoyment of the action scenes at hand, constantly reminding the viewer of their purpose as opposed to simply letting us enjoy the lethal mayhem.
The script’s frustrating vagueness mainly involves a shadowy group of villains, known as the Templars (based on actual history), and these antagonists are barely mentioned with any sort of context. The biggest issue with this lack of detail is that the Templars play a huge role in the story and newcomers know next to nothing about them. There’s also an eye-rolling leap into supernatural territory towards the last third that may outright lose viewers who were enjoying the film up to that point, mainly because there was no hint or explanation of why the plot would suddenly move into that genre. On a similar and yet slightly unrelated note, ASSASSIN’S CREED really drops the ball in its finale that seems to feature a ton of build-up to a very weak pay-off that ultimately ended with an obvious cliffhanger for a sequel.
Most of this review has been spent with me writing about the action-packed pros of the past plot and the many cons of the present plot with no mention of acting, cinematography, soundtrack, and other details. Well, that’s because all of those things are well above average for your typical video game movie. Fassbender, Cotillard and Irons add a classy sense that ASSASSIN’S CREED is trying to set itself apart from past game-to-movie misfires. The film’s visuals, set design, action choreography, effects and rousing score kept me interested in the proceedings. However, these good qualities only further show how 99% of the film’s impossible-to-ignore problems stem from the sloppy script.
At the beginning of 2016, many moviegoers were hoping that this year would change the bad reputation of video game movies. WARCRAFT was being touted as a summer tentpole and ASSASSIN’S CREED was something to look forward to in the holiday season. In true 2016 fashion, both of these films let folks down. Neither of these movies are truly terrible in my opinion, though I definitely enjoyed WARCRAFT more than ASSASSIN’S CREED, but they only serve as okay entertainment at best. With better writing, ASSASSIN’S CREED really could have been something special. Instead, this movie is just another messy attempt to bring the excitement of a video game to the big screen and not quite pulling it off.