Video game movies have usually either been so bad they’re good, like the first Mortal Kombat or my beloved JCVD Street Fighter or so bad, they’re bad, which is most of the rest of them. Assassin’s Creed is kind of neither, as it’s much more ambitious than any other game adaptation to date but also too deadly serious to have any fun with it’s ridiculous premise.
With probably the most impressive cast ever assembled for a game adaptation, Michael Fassbender stars as Callum Lynch, a death row inmate who is taken to the mysterious Abstergo Corporation following his “execution” and put into the hands of Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard). She claims to want to end humanity’s propensity for violence but her ulterior motive for putting Cal in the Animus, the rig that lets Cal live out the memories of his Assassin ancestor, is to find the Apple of Eden, an ancient artifact that will rob humanity of its free will if it falls into the wrong hands. All of the game’s insane sci-fi mumbo jumbo is on display in the movie and the only way it even sounds slightly plausible is because it’s coming out of the mouths of Fassbender, Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, who plays Cotillard’s father Alan Rikkin, a high ranking Templar. The problem is that same deadly serious expository tone is the only tone of the whole movie and even lines that are seemingly setup to be comedic are said in a serious monotone and deflates any laughs they might have generated. Fassbender also stars as his ancestor, Aguilar, who is joined by Ariane Labed’s Maria in 1492 Spain on a mission to prevent the Templars from kidnapping the son of a sultan friendly to the Assassins and forcing him to turn over the Apple. While not based on any particular game, it follows the same story setup of the first few entries, with Abstergo using Assassin memories to try and pinpoint the location of the Apple and most of the hallmarks of the game are here in some form or fashion like the parkour climbing, the way the assassins attack groups of enemies, so many eagles, historical figure cameos and the iconic Leap of Faith but fans of the games may be turned off by the ratio of historical to present day action. The games lean more toward the historical side of things with the present day storyline being checked into occasionally but the movie flips that ratio and spends about 70% of its time in the present day and 30% in the Spanish Inquisition era and that time period is used for pretty much nothing but the set piece action moments. The movie also goes completely off the rails at the end with one of the most confusing and anti-climactic finales in recent memory.
If nothing else, the movie looks great though, especially Inquisition era Spain, which in this movie is a nightmarish hellscape of constantly blowing sand and smoke, people dressed in horrific costumes and constant warfare between the Templar/Inquisition forces and the Assassins. There are two big chase action sequences in this time period and they are pretty cool for the most part but there is some incoherent, Bourne style editing that sometimes makes it hard to see what exactly is going on. The costuming and weapons are also spot on for the games style. The problem is that the story of Aguilar and Marie’s mission is basically an afterthought to the present day Cal storyline and it doesn’t even have a satisfying conclusion, abruptly ending and going into the most bizarre sequence in the movie that I won’t spoil but if anyone can figure out exactly what the hell is supposd to be going on, please let me know. Like previously mentioned, the present day storyline also ends on a disappointing, anti-climactic note after seemingly setting up a modern day Assassins vs Templars showdown with Cal and his fellow .
The caliber of the actors involved, the attention to detail and look of Inquisition era Spain and some of the action makes Assassin’s Creed not a complete disaster but it still doesn’t pull video games effectively into the world of cinema. There are story and world details that fans of the games will appreciate but I would recommend maybe renting it later next year instead of seeing it in theaters now.