“What the fuck is going on?”
This is a line of dialogue that actually comes from Assassin’s Creed, spoken from the mouth of Michael Fassbender’s character Cal Lynch after he’s bombarded with a wave of nonsensical information that is thrown at him all at once. It plays as a self-aware wink to its confused audience, who Fassbender and company realize have probably long given up on trying to understand whatever is happening in the film’s equally ridiculous and paper-thin plot. Considering that almost all of the audience at my screening was laughing hard during this moment, it’s a telling sign that they were right.
Helmed by director Justin Kurzel (who worked with Fassbender last year on Macbeth), Assassin’s Creed begins in 15th-century Spain, where we are introduced to the long-standing war between Assassins and Templars. The Templars are seeking power through the Apple of Eden, a powerful artifact which contains “the genetic blueprint for free will.” From there it cuts to the 1980s where teenage Cal Lynch comes home after a nice day of bike-riding to find his mother killed by his father. Kurzel jumps straight into present day 2016 where Lynch is about to receive a lethal injection after a life of crime that came directly as a result from that tragic event. If it all seems to happen way too fast, it’s because it does. Any sense of character development was left on the cutting room floor, if it even made it that far.
The only thing is, this injection doesn’t kill him. He wakes up to find himself in a strange facility in Madrid called Abstergo Industries, a modern-day version of The Knights Templar who continue the hunt for the Apple Of Eden so that they finally have total control of free will. These efforts are led by Sofia (Marion Cotillard) and her father, Alan (Jeremy Irons). Sofia runs a program called “the Animus” which brings the present day Assassins back in time to the lives of their ancestors, so that the Knights Templar can literally see the memories of past Assassins in order to come one step closer to finding the Apple.
Assassin’s Creed asks for those not familiar with the game to take a quite literal “leap of faith” and just go along with the ride. This could have been achieved by the filmmakers and writers taking it all less seriously and maybe having a little bit of fun with the project. Only there’s absolutely no joy or levity to be found anywhere, with the only laughs being unintentional ones at the expense of the filmmakers. The writing team of Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage avoid wasting time with any sense of character development, ultimately leaving me cold to every character, past, present, and whatever the hell else comes in-between. It’s one thing to ask us to stretch our imagination for something so ridiculous, especially when you have such thinly drawn characters that you don’t like, and quite frankly, don’t give a shit about.
Okay, okay, it’s not all that bad. Some of the scenes in ancient Spain were somewhat engaging action sequences. The only problem is that we are constantly removed from this world and placed into Lynch’s experience with Animus, ultimately reminded that it’s not actually happening. Ironically, it’s like watching someone else playing a video game. You try to immerse yourself into the world like the player, but ultimately seeing someone else pressing all the buttons leaves you feeling detached. These action sequences do actually give cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (Macbeth, The Light Between Oceans, True Detective) something to work with, a big contrast to the depressing colors delivered in scenes that take place in the depressingly lit Abstergo Industries.
This is a film that features many acting greats such as Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, and Brendan Gleeson (not to mention a truly wasted Michael Kenneth Williams). They do the best they can with this material, but there’s only so much they can do with wooden lines that they clearly can’t connect with.
Fans of the video game may be more forgiving of the movie, but they deserve better than this. The glaring failures of Assassin’s Creed, along with the equally disappointing Warcraft from earlier in the year, have me wondering if it is even possible to successfully adapt a video game into a decent cinematic experience. I’m sure fans of the game will argue that I just don’t understand it cause I didn’t play the game. It’s possible that that’s true, but it’s also possible that it’s just a poorly made film that is a miserable, hollow, viewing experience.
Assassin’s Creed sets up possible sequels and even more entries into this universe, but I can’t imagine ever willingly entering this world ever again.