Video game adaptations vary from adequate to awful; who are they aimed at? The players? They’re playing. The non-players? It’s just another production-line action movie to us. There’s no question Justin Kurzel’s (Macbeth) Assassin’s Creed pulls off a technical tour-de-force, using live action where possible to render the rooftop, parkour set-pieces; and the action is top-drawer. But as a story, is it any good?
Assassins versus Templars in a time-spanning tale of genetic memory across five hundred years, with the worst McGuffin in movies, it’s all an excuse for run, jump, dive, kick, punch, stab, stab, stab, stab, stab; and repeat. Only the star power of Fassbender and Cottillard treating it like their earlier MacBeth collaboration keep it on the rails.
The sci-fi-fantasy setup is as daft as anything you’ll find in the DVD bargain bin; ever-reliable bad guys the Knights Templar want to create a totalitarian state by removing humanity’s free will. To do this they need the genetic code hidden in the Apple of Eden – the worst McGuffin since Wanted‘s Loom of Fate – lost for five hundred years. What next? The Tea-tray of Mild Disgruntlement? The key is in the genetic memory of Aguilar, the assassin who hid it in 1492; for which the Templars need his last descendant, condemned criminal Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender – X-Men, Slow West) and his family baggage. Callum is kidnapped and wired up to super-gizmo The Animus to re-live Aguilar’s memories and uncover the Apple (which is never remotely explained). So far, so ho-hum.
The script tries to make this about family – fathers and sons; Brendan Gleeson (The Guard, Calvary) briefly appears as Callum’s father who killed his mother – fathers and daughters; Cotillard’s dedicated scientist clashes with neo-fascist dad Jeremy Irons (BvS: DoJ); could she not tell he’s an ego-maniac working for an ancient order of elitist murderers? It’s a morally grey movie when the assassins are the good guys, but then they are up against Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition… Everyboy expects the Spanish Inquisition! And the Apple, where is it? Oh, it’s there.
It’s all an excuse for a whole load of running, jumping, chasing and general assassin-ing. Which is fine if action movies are your thing, in which case, go ahead, enjoy, it’s well-crafted and invests a lot in the hooded outfits and the blades. None of which will mean anything if you’re not a player.
In the end it’s all about the moody lighting, the huge roof-top city vistas, the parkour moves, and variously stabbing lots of people with unpleasant bladed weapons whilst recreating the strike poses from the game. Which you’re not playing. For most of it, like Callum, we’re along for the ride. But then he gets to unlock Aguilar’s skills and play a bit himself, where Act Three becomes a violent prison break. And we’re still not playing.
Fassbender is a committed performer who I’ll watch in anything (even Inglourious Bar-stewards); the same for Cotillard (Vie en Rose, Inception). Even they can’t lift the expensive Assassin’s Creed out of the hum-drum action genre. Anyways, I’m pretty sure the fan-boys would rather be playing the new release of the game instead. RC
Assassin’s Creed (2017)
Director: Justin Kurzel
Writters: Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Michael Lesslie
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama
Running time: 116 minutes
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cottillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson