Assassin’s Creed (2016)

by - December 21st, 2016 - Movie Reviews

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Flashy Assassin’s Creed Another Video Game Adaptation Gone Wrong

Instead of being executed by Texas for murdering a pimp, Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) has been secretly whisked away by the powerful Abstergo Industries to take part in their secret DNA experiments run by brilliant scientist Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard). Under the direction of her father (Jeremy Irons), the company’s founder, she is going to place the convicted criminal in her machine known as The Animus. Once attached, she will then attempt to connect him with his blood ancestors, hopefully 15th century Spaniard Aguilar de Nerha, the last man known to have been in contact with a biblical artifact known as the Apple of Eden.

PHOTO: 20th Century Fox

PHOTO: 20th Century Fox

Turns out, Aguilar was a trusted member of a fearsome order known as The Assassins, their goal to keep the Apple and its secrets safe from the Knights of Templar. For centuries, they’ve wanted this artifact, its powers fabled to have the capacity to erase free will thus bending all of humanity to the Templar’s thinking. They believe that by zapping this gift from God away from the people of the Earth they will in turn be saving it, eradicating violence forever, but at a cost those in the ranks of The Assassins believe is far too gigantic to be comfortably paid.

Based on the popular video game series of the same name, there’s certainly no shortage of talent both behind and in front of the camera as far as the epic, centuries-spanning adventure Assassin’s Creed is concerned. Reuniting the core creative team behind last year’s Shakespeare stunner Macbeth (stars Fassbender and Cotillard, director Justin Kurzel, co-screenwriter Michael Lesslie, composer Jed Kurzel and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw), it isn’t like there isn’t a lot to be impressed about here. But, much like close-but-no-cigar video game adaptation that have come before it like Duncan Jones’ Warcraft and Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, this one can’t help but come up a little bit short, failing to deliver an entertaining and involving narrative that warrants even a single solitary ounce of all this fuss.

The problem is that none of this, not an ounce of it, makes any logical or practical sense. Having never played the games, I cannot claim how faithful Lesslie, Adam Cooper (Exodus: Gods and Kings) and Bill Collage’s (Allegiant) script is to the source material. Be that as it may, this is convoluted even for a video game adaptation, the narrative traipsing back and forth through history with bewildering abandon and no concern whether the pieces are fitting together comfortably. But it’s the present day stuff going on inside the Abstergo Industries corporate headquarters that’s most idiotic. What’s the point of keeping around blood descendants of all these assassins once they’ve served their usefulness? How does Sofia not see how her invention is being perverted? And, speaking of The Animus, what exactly does it do to those put inside of it? Do they suddenly get super powers, knowing all the skills of their ancestors? Is it like the Matrix and much like Neo once you jack-in are you suddenly gifted the power of kung fu?

These are only a handful of the questions that the filmmakers don’t bother to even try and answer, but they are arguably the most important ones. The sheer volume of silly lunacies transpiring over the course of the two or so hours the film runs are incalculable, trying to keep track of them all as pointless an exercise as any that can be imagined. Even for a video game movie, this thing is dumb. But, more than that, it doesn’t have the good sense to revel in that stupidity, everything treated with a somber seriousness more suitable to Kurzel, Fassbender and Cotillard’s last joint project but feels utterly alien and not at all appropriate here.

Thing is, Kurzel and his crackerjack production team are far too talented for any of this to fall completely flat. Not only is Jed Kurzel’s score magnificent, so is Arkapaw’s dynamic cinematography and Christopher Tellefsen’s (Moneyball) lyrical editing. Additionally, the action sequences, at least the ones unaided by noticeably obnoxious CG-generated enhancements, most notably the ones taking place during the Spanish Inquisition, are extraordinary, the fluidity of the imagine made more magnetic thanks to the aggressiveness of the violence. There’s a stunning escape and chase sequence through a 15th century city that’s an adrenaline-filled triumph, while a third act battle between the Assassins and the Templar-controlled security guards inside The Animus chamber is frankly incredible.

PHOTO: 20th Century Fox

PHOTO: 20th Century Fox

Maybe video game movies will never work. Maybe they’re so beholden to their source material they can’t make the necessary changes required in order to work as a piece of narrative cinema. Seriously, what is there to say when the best of the genre is still the first Resident Evil movie released way back in 2002 and has since spawned five sequels of varying quality ranging from passably okay to astonishingly terrible?

Kurzel and company try their hardest to change things, and at times they do come amazingly close to pulling it off. But overall Assassin’s Creed is just too laughably nonsensical to be the one to do it. As cool as it all looks every now and then, and as glorious as the action can be, the characters are lifeless and the story is a chaotic nightmare, nothing holding together in ways that could add up to something substantive. This is nothing more than another video game adaptation that fails to rise to the challenge of being reborn for the cinema, and as such is a forgettable also-ran with precious little of merit allowing it to stand out from any of its equally unremarkable brethren.

– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)