Another videogame movie. Joy.
Assassin’s Creed is likely the most grandiose attempt to make a successful medium shift from game to film. The film boasts massive production designs, source material that is at least interesting, and major stars. Michael Fassbender takes the leading role(s) and serves as one of the producers of the film. One would think that this one might break the horrid trend of videogame films simply not working.
I am one of those people who truly believes that the medium shift can (theoretically) be successful. Unfortunately, this movie does not support my beliefs.
The Assassin’s Creed universe relies on excessive complication to mask a fairly simple narrative. Assassins and Templars are fighting over humanity. The assassins want free will and the Templars want—safety? Descendants of Assassins have genetic memories that can be accessed via a machine to see the memories of their ancient ancestors.
I am being a little unfair, when the first game came out it was a fun idea. Further, for fans of Illuminati style conspiracies this series will give you joy. My major complaint with the narrative is that it functions as incredibly didactic, which is often needed in videogames. The film tries to blow through the exposition, but ends up having to provide filler sections later, and this creates an uneven pacing.
I think most people can accept that a story involving time traveling memories and plots to control humanity is going to be at least a little cheesy. Cool. Popcorn flicks are an important aspect of our culture, but this film doesn’t really meet those needs. Throwing the plot to the side, there are still numerous other issues. First, the entire film is shot in an over-filtered/edited style that gives almost every scene a sheen of gloss that simply looks fake. IMDB touts that 80% of the film was shot without using CGI, which would be cool, but the film style makes 100% look like it was computer generated.
The action set pieces, which should have been the redeeming feature of the film are dragged down by over editing. I have more or less accepted that in most films it takes fifteen cuts to throw a punch, but this film doubles down on that by interspersing images of Fassbender in the animus doing the actions as well. The audience literally gets to watch someone play the memories. Further, the animus is not a sleeping pod like in the games, but rather a giant robotic arm that at some points looks like it is coming out of his ass—seriously.
Cleaning up the fight scenes would have helped a lot, but what the film really needed was someone to take ideas out of the script. There is simply too much happening in the movie for any of it to really matter. We have Fassbender playing the role of Cal Lynch, who is kidnapped and forced to participate in the animus. Cal’s storyline isn’t that interesting because he isn’t a very interesting character. Through this half of the film, we have Cal’s growth, seeking redemption, complicated relationship with Sofia (Marion Cotillard), issues with his father—past and present, a yearning for his mother, looking for a place of belonging, rivalries with fellow Assassins, a desire for vengeance, and a bunch of other stuff. That is all tied to one character. Aside from this, we have his past self Aguilar, who has his own motivations and relationships. If the film would have stopped here it still would have been more than enough. But no, let’s add ten other side characters, plots, try to shove in social points, set up a sequel, add some twists, and even include corporate bickering.
Videogames have the luxury of being able to tell a story in twenty, forty, or even one hundred hours. A movie on average has two hours to get the story out. With so many balls in the air there was no way this film could be self-contained. Not every film needs a sequel, and not every adaptation needs to cover (and add) every imaginable aspect. The scope of the film is massive, and with such little time spent on so many things none of them resonated with me in the end. By the end of it, I was glad to see it conclude.
I wouldn’t call the film an absolute waste of time, but it certainly isn’t something anyone needs to see. I do not know what the next attempted videogame to film production we will see, but those of us who want to see it done well will have to wait a little bit longer. 3/10