This was disappointing, not because I am a fan of this video game franchise but because of the talent involved and their inability to create a coherent film. I really enjoyed director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015) so I was very excited to hear he was at the helm of Assassin’s Creed with both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard plus having the exceptional Adam Arkpaw return as his cinematographer. The film I ended up seeing was a confusing mess of poor story telling, poor characterisation that left me confused and eventually bored for most of its runtime.
Fassbender stars as both as Callum Lynch, recently executed convict now prisoner of the Abstergo Foundation and as Lynch’s 500-year-old ancestor Aguilar de Nerha, a member of the Assassin’s Creed who has sworn to be protector of an ancient artefact known as the Apple of Eden. The story of the film is all about two secret societies at war: The Assassin’s and the Templars and how the Templars want the Apple of Eden to be able to strip free will from humanity and assume full control over everyone. The Abstergo foundation is controlled by Templars played by Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons and they intend to use a machine called the “Animus” to have Lynch “relive” the memories of Aguilar to learn the last location of the Apple.
Now a problem with the film is its difficulty to explain the logic and the history within the film. The script makes no attempt to seriously explain how the devices such as the Animus or Apple works and because of Kurzel’s grounded dramatic approach with the story, it’s frustrating to find any logic in the science of the film. There is no attempt to elaborate on the conflict between Templars and Assassins, they’re both faceless organisations and their morality in the film is seemingly separated by their intentions with the Apple. I’m curious to see if anyone well versed in the video game lore is able to understand this film better than I did, I have played some of these games but I still had no idea why any of this was happening.
This weak foundation that the story is built is not elevated by any of the performances or by Kurzel’s direction. I could understand what the screenwriters wanted to do with the story but it’s so underdeveloped that it doesn’t matter and the paper thin characterisation in this film really lets down the actors. There is some very good talent in this film but there’s nothing noteworthy from any performance, especially Fassbender. Not only is Lynch unlikeable and his motivations confusing but Aguilar has absolutely no character to him he is merely an uncharismatic silent badass who we’re supposed to root for because of that reason alone. Cotillard’s character is just a cliché, the “innocent” scientist working for the evil corporation and “really cares” about Lynch for seemingly no reason. Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling and Michael Kenneth Williams all have their parts but none of it works, more than 50% of Irons screen time is him looking out windows and observing.
Kurzel fails to keep audiences engaged in the film, so many story elements are unexplained or ignored for convenience that you’re spend most of the time confused and eventually that confusion will lead to boredom. Even the high octane thrills of the Assassin sequences won’t do anything for you because yes, they start off great but the complete lack of development on Aguilar and his female assassin cohort just has you lose interest. The failure of this film is its inability to have the audience care about any element of its story or its characters. In these sequences I’m not watching characters I care about fight for their lives and their mission, I’m watching stunt performers do impressive parkour and it takes me out of the movie. There are only three Assassin sequences in this film, the rest of it is set in the “real world” and again the script, Kurzel and the actors are unable to make anything about it compelling.
The main strength of this film is definitely in the technical work of the cinematography team, stunt coordinators and production designers. The film especially when set during the “Assassin” portions in the Spanish Inquisition is the main highlight, it looks absolutely gorgeous. I do have many criticisms for the script and direction of the film but I will give credit to Adam Arkpaw. This film is very well shot and even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the CGI mist effects in the Animus, its Arkpaw’s use of movement and light that really helps recreate the video games iconic moments.
Assassin’s Creed just feels like a real misfire of an opportunity, its absence of care, script wise compleltey hinders Kurzel and the performers from creating anything substantial. None of the payoffs in this film I feel are earned, its all rushed and under developed which does nothing to create an emotional connection with its audience. I feel if you are a fan of the video game franchise you may get something out of this film but that is no guarantee.