Review: Assassin’s Creed (2016)


An all star cast top-lined by Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Irons, and Marion Cotillard definitively prove that video game to movie adaptations need a hard reset.

In the late 1990’s, it seemed that for a successful comic book adaptation to take root in the popular consciousness, it had to ignore everything that made the comic book memorable, save the iconic silhouette of a handful of characters. You had to add black tactical gear instead of colorful outfits, it had to be dark and set in an edgy quasi-futuristic present. Plus, it had to have sci-fi gadgetry and CGI everywhere. It wasn’t until Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and later the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that being true to some of the more fantastical elements of comic characters with a level of grounding seemed to be what audiences really wanted. Audiences know these characters from comics, games, and cartoons; why reinvent the wheel when you have a cool property. Alas, video game adaptations have yet to learn this lesson. From Hitman, to Hitman Agent 47 and now with Assassin’s Creed, you get a weird attempt to rework the game’s storyline to make it more contemporary in a way that makes it ultimately less compelling and interesting.

Michael Fassbender stars as Callum Lynch; a man who has been on the run his whole life since his mother was killed when he was a child. As an adult, Callum is on death row and is executed by lethal injection; only to be revived by a company called Abstergo in Spain ala La Femme Nikita. It seems Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) and her father (Jeremy Irons) have arranged for Callum to have an opportunity to have a new life. All he has to do is try their machine; a gimbal like device called The Animus that will sync with his genetic memory and allow them to access the memories of his ancestor to find an ancient relic called The Apple of Eden.

You see, Callum comes from an ancient line of Assassins; a brotherhood who protected this artifact from Tomas de Torquemada (Spanish actor Javier Gutiérrez in the worst putty nose ever) and his evil Knights Templar. Alas, we don’t get to see any Tombs of the Blind Dead style Templars, but we do see the past through the eyes of Callum’s ancestor Aguilar (also played by Fassbender). Sophia encourages Callum to sync his memories in the Animus to Aguilar’s; we see his adventures with his partner Maria (The Lobster’s Ariane Labed) as they try to secure the location of the Apple away from the Templars. Sophia claims to want to end violence through her machine; but that ultimately might mean using the Apple to remove free will from humanity and let the Templars and Abstergo take over the world.

That’s the basic plot here. Honestly, it sounds more cohesive in writing than the movie actually presents it in action. Despite a great cast, including The Wire’s Michael K. Williams, Brendan Gleason, and Charlotte Rampling among others, the movie criminally underuses everyone involved. Moreover, while the scenes of the ancient Assassins and Templars diving off high cathedrals and running through rooftops in Spain look cool, they add almost nothing to the plot whatsoever. These scenes exist solely so Cotillard’s character can call out Easter Eggs from the video game like “its the Leap of Faith” for the video gamers in attendance. Sadly, these scenes in Spain are the closest to the video game in terms of translating to film and the most interesting part of the film. The movie also employs an overabundance of CGI to create dust and atmosphere throughout the film to a point where plot details are lost. In 2D, its a chore to sift through to see whats happening; be it holographic projections, lighting effects added in post, or a general smogginess throughout. 3D is likely even worse; as this film was post converted to the format.

Ultimately, the film suffers from the same problems as all video game films. If you’re not part of the franchise fanbase, you’re sort of clueless as to what’s going on. The scenes with Abstergo and the Animus are laughably bad; existing only to get us modern day Assassins wearing dark black overcoats. The movie seems obsessed with getting us away from the 1400’s and Spain which are the only interesting notes in the film. Its as if the filmmakers want this to be more Resident Evil than its own thing. Ariane Labed gives a great performance here and is one of the few high caliber actors not seemingly sleepwalking through the film for a paycheck. It doesn’t help that film’s MacGuffin is never really defined in terms of scope or abilities; thus lowering our overall investment in the proceedings as viewers.

maxresdefault (2)

If you’re a fan of the game, this may right up your alley. However, as a film, Assassin’s Creed is wholly dead on arrival, lost amidst too much CGI, too much technobabble and a lack of direction about what kind of film its trying to be. Video game to movie adaptations are still the dish Hollywood is trying to get right and they’ve still got a long way to go.