Video game movies aren’t necessarily a dime a dozen, but they have been growing in popularity in recent years with adaptations of “Angry Birds”, “Hitman”, “Ratchet & Clank”, “Need For Speed”, and “World of Warcraft” all being released since 2014 and yet another “Resident Evil” film on the horizon. Most of these are relatively bad movies in their own right and probably are not worth the time to pop them on the Blu-Ray or DVD player, but one new video game adaptation caught my attention. “Assassin’s Creed” is no masterpiece, but it’s a step in the right direction for a subgenre of films that, rightfully so, has gotten little respect. Still, that by no means makes it a “great” movie.
Based on the acclaimed video game franchise of the same name, “Assassin’s Creed” supposedly takes place in the same universe as its source material with a completely unique story and set of characters mixed into a nearly two-and-a-half hour special effects extravaganza that tends to focus more on visuals than character development and storytelling.
The film follows Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a death row inmate whose bloodline traces back to the legendary Assassin’s Brotherhood, a legion of skilled killers dedicated to opposing the Templar Order, a group of religious and political leaders devoted to controlling the world and seeking out an artifact know as the Apple of Eden. Their mission: use the artifact to eradicate free will and eliminate the “disease” of violence. To do that however modern day Templar Order member Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter Sophia (Marion Cotillard) “save” Lynch from his death sentence by faking his death and bringing him to the headquarters of the Rikkin family business in Spain. While there Lynch finds himself among other assassin ancestors as he is linked to a machine called the Animus, which allows him to reenact the actions and memories of his assassin ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha, who was the last known assassin to possess the Apple of Eden.
From there the story unfolds and if you had a hard time following the summary above, well that’s pretty much how confusing and, at times, convoluted the film tends to be. The film does an exceptional job pacing itself well enough that anyone paying enough attention should be able to follow along as the film sways between modern day and Aguilar’s memories in 1492 Spain where Aguilar, along with his assassin partner Maria (Ariane Labed), are charged with protecting a prince whose father is the keeper of the Apple of Eden. Michael Fassbender does his best portraying both Aguilar and Callum, capturing the determination of the old assassin and the confused and violent nature of his modern day counterpart. However while Fassbender, in all his acting glory, does whatever he can to bring his characters to life, he suffers the same flaws as the rest of the cast who come off as lifeless and uninterested. Irons portrays a surprisingly bland villain and while Marion Corillard shows off her acting range in her role, her character’s constant shift between sympathetic science figure and aggressive peace-seeking Templar puppet makes her out to be nothing more than a pre-teen in an adult’s body, seemingly unsure of herself and who she even wants to be, let alone where she wants to fit in, in the story.
The film does provide some great action scenes but even those are not top notch. The final showdown in the end of the film provides some great moments of combat as do the memories of Aguilar, but even then it all seems a little dumbed-down and family friendly, probably to conform to a PG-13 rating, where as much more violent, dangerous, and gruesome outcomes could have probably fit the tone of the film much better.
The battles between Aguilar and his opponents are anticlimactic given we already know the outcome and Callum’s own fight sequences are well choreographed but anticlimactic in their own right, some lasting only mere minutes. For a film and a game franchise that depends so much on handling altercations as much as its visual beauty, the film doesn’t really live up to its source material. I honestly never played the games, but I’ve seen it played and even I know there was more potential than this for a film adaptation. What the film lacks in effective action however it makes up for a bit with very artistically shot parkour and acrobatic stunts, including the famed “leap of faith”, which are probably some of the most visually stunning moments in the film.
All in all “Assassin’s Creed” isn’t an absolute train wreck. It has its flaws, many of them rather predictable for an action epic, but when it comes to past video game adaptations “Assassin’s Creed” certainly holds its own. While that’s not saying a whole lot given the disastrous track record of the video game film genre, “Assassin’s Creed” proves to be a fun movie to watch in its own right, but fails to reach anywhere near the quality, potential, or epic scope and scale that its source material has captured so well.