REVIEW: “Assassin’s Creed”

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I just knew they existed even before the first screenings of “Assassin’s Creed” – the haughty dismissive jabs at yet another ‘video game movie’. Nevermind that video games have evolved from simple pixels and sprites into vast interactive experiences often times anchored by deep, thoughtful stories. Forget that video games have surpassed both Hollywood and the music industry in the entertainment market. Many people simply won’t treat video games or their movie adaptations seriously, so in that regard “Assassin’s Creed” was already behind the proverbial eight ball.

But there is another unavoidable truth. Filmmakers aren’t doing much to quell these attitudes. In fact, video games have a history of spawning some truly terrible film adaptations. Look no further than “Super Mario Bros.”, “Street Fighter”, “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” just to name a few. But isn’t “Assassin’s Creed” different? I mean it stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling. With that amount of talent it can’t be as bad as many are saying, right? The short answer – no it isn’t, but it’s complicated.

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The immensely popular Assassin’s Creed video game franchise from developer Ubisoft is ripe with big screen potential. This film clearly intends to be a launching point for a film series. The games have never been restricted to certain characters which enables to movie to create entirely new ones and tell a new story within the same universe. Fassbender latched on early in the process not only starring but also co-producing.

The story takes place during two time periods – 2016 and 15th century Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. An age-old war between the Knights Templar and the Assassins has bled over into modern day driving the mysterious Abstergo Foundation to create the Animus. The machine allows Abstergo to connect people with their descendants in order to glean information from the past. The foundation is ran by Alan Rikkin (Irons) but the Animus creator Sophia Rikkin (Cotillard) oversees the project. Both father and daughter have very different ideas for its use.

Enter Callum Lynch (Fassbender), a death row inmate who wakes up to find himself in an Abstergo facility. Lynch is the descendent of a 15th century Assassin named Aguilar de Nerha who may hold the key to locating a powerful relic called the Apple of Eden. Sophia sees the relic as a tool for global peace while others at Abstergo have much more nefarious intentions.

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Let’s get this out of the way. “Assassin’s Creed” isn’t the wretched, soulless dreck its Rotten Tomatoes score would have you believe. In fact, a solid two-thirds of its running time is a ton of fun especially for those familiar with the franchise. The film nicely juggles Creed’s signature crazy mix of action, historical drama, and science fiction while tossing out several nods to fans. But you don’t need to be an aficionado to understand what’s going on, at least until the last act. At that point things get a bit muddled and messy as the film tries to tie up its many layers of plot.

Director Justin Kurzel (who had previously worked with Fassbender and Cotillard in “Macbeth”) offers several interesting touches as he works in two very different time periods and locations. The 15th century sequences are exhilarating particularly one street chase that may be my favorite action sequence of the year. Kurzel and regular cinematographer Adam Arkapaw shoot the scenes with gusto and great detail. When it moves back to modern day it leaves the dusty, dirty shades of brown for cold, dreary blues and greys. This is where most of the story plays out.

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But now I get back to that third act. Overall I disagree with the criticisms calling the plot convoluted and overblown, at least for the majority of the film. But as it wraps things up it does get a little confusing. The story moves into full franchise setup mode, putting characters and tensions in places that clearly points to follow-up movies. There are some good elements to the finale, but some messiness as well. Even the action takes a step down in last 15 minutes.

Still, I had fun with “Assassin’s Creed” particularly with its wildly unique (and admittedly wacky) story. It also doesn’t hurt to have this level of acting talent in front of the camera. It does fall victim to some of the usual franchise-building frustrations, but at the same time it sets itself up for limitless possibilities. Where does it go next – the Civil War, the French Revolution, the Cold War? I don’t know. First it will depend on the box office and so far that hasn’t looked too promising.

VERDICT 3.5 STARS

3.5 stars

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18 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Assassin’s Creed”

  1. I’m with you on this one. It had some cool ideas and good performances. I didnt think it was that bad as people are saying. I liked it way better than Warcraft

    • Good to hear! I’ve been a bit perplexed by some of the negativity. I felt it was really strong until that last act. I just think there is an inherent dismissive attitude in some when they hear the description “based on a video game”. Do you get that sense?

  2. It’s good to see you enjoyed Assassin’s Creed my friend. I wish I could say the feelings mutual but I couldn’t help but feel left behind by this. I actually did feel that one needed to be pretty clued in to this series to fully be satisfied by this. And the fact THIS cast was involved I had some probably unfairly high expectations set in place that just weren’t met. All the same, yeah those action sequences were fantastic and the movie does a great job of pulling audiences into this unique universe.

    • It seems lots of people feel the way you do. I actually thought the story was layered yet fairly easy to follow. Then it does several things that I’m still not sure about. For me the cast served the characters well and most fit well with the story. I did find myself wanting to know more about Fassbender’s Assassin partner in the 15th century scenes. She was really intriguing. I wish they gave her more story weight.

    • That’s great to hear. Man I was expecting a catastrophe after the initial reviews. That probably contributed to my reaction. I had such a fun experience and would like to see it again before it leaves theaters. Not sure if I’ll have time though.

  3. I think you’ve persuaded me to give this a go! I’ll have to wait for the DVD but I played the first couple of AC games and am intrigued enough to dabble. I’d love to see a truly great video game adaptation though…long overdue.

    • Sadly this one isn’t that great one we both are looking for. But it is nowhere near as horrendous as reviews make it out to be. In fact it’s pretty fabulous right up until the last act where it comes unglued.

      I love the AC games. Actually playing AC: Syndicate right now. There are so many fun ideas they could explore in a film series. Unfortunately I don’t think this thing had the box office legs to guarantee another film.

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