MOVIE REVIEW – The long-awaited Assassin’s Creed movie adapted from the once must-beloved video game franchise is finally here. Michael Fassbinder plays two roles of modern and past assassins, Jeremy Irons looks like a kick-ass Templar and same goes for Marion Cotillard who couldn’t look more intense, then in this movie. Trailers looked fantastic, so what could go wrong? Well, in fact, almost everything did – even if I personally somehow enjoyed the movie…
I am in a bit of trouble, since being a fan of the Assassin’s Creed video games and having played all of them, I somewhat enjoyed Assassin’s Creed, the movie. Yes, I know how critics destroyed it, yes, I am well aware of its grave mistakes and how it’s a gibberish to everyone but the Assassin’s Creed fans. But I also know what Justin Kurzel wanted to accomplish here, with unique visual style, which makes for an exciting, if strange ride.
Faithful adaption of the myth
There is a complicated and deep mythology behind the game, and the film follows it mostly faithfully. What’s strange, that the story is somehow the adaptation of the modern part of the first game, with characters whose are still a bit different. The assassin story in the past world is however completely new, and I mostly enjoyed it – but I am aware, how it must feel stupid for non-assassin fans. But let us get to the story.
Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbinder) is a death row inmate with a violent childhood. He is put to death by lethal injection but wakes up in a clinic at the shadowy Abstergo corporation. The lead scientist there, Dr Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) claims she’s researching “the cure to violence.”
For his part, Cal is harnessed to a giant mechanical arm called the Animus and forced to regress to 15th century Spain, where he fights the Spanish Inquisition as his hooded assassin ancestor, Aguilar (also played by Fassbender). Like a video game! And Abstergo? It’s just a front for the Knights Templar, the eternal mortal enemies of the assassins. Both groups want to get their hands on “the Apple of Eden,” which has the genetic code for free will (man’s first disobedience). The Knights Templar want to force peace onto people through mental obedience, while the assassins are all about free will, violence and all.
It sounds hokey – yes, I know, I still somewhat like it
Yes, the story sounds stupid, especially for those who never played the games. The script is also a mess by not explaining much for newcomers and even a bit strange for those how to know everything about Assassin’s Creed (like me). There are illogical acts from some of the characters (including Callum Lynch himself and Dr Sofia Rikkin), and the story seems to be almost inexistent in the medieval part. How could I somewhat like that?
Well for a start, I liked how the Aguilar was played by Michael Fassbinder and the ancient assassin guild was presented in the movie. It truly felt like a secret and ancient society of medieval assassins, and that feeling was only present in the very first game. Aguilar is a devoted and both cold blooded and passionate assassin (whichever he needed to be) and playing the games I felt that he’s perhaps the best assassin among all of them, or perhaps on par with Altair, the Arabic “hassassin” from the first game.
The historical setting was also interesting, a bit reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed II (the same era), which was perhaps the best game in the series.
Though sometimes confounding, there are some interesting themes lying just below the surface of “Assassin’s Creed,” particularly about Cal as a prisoner who goes from one supermax facility to another. The scientists claim that modernity has no outlet for agression, resulting in an elaborate system that pathologizes violence and contains it within a surveillance-driven panopticon. The apple above would let them pre-empt all of that by containing humanity in a mental prison. But I also completely understand the criticism of those who felt the story a complete illogical mess. This movie is indeed a gibberish for those who didn’t play the game, as hard as it’s trying to explain things to newcomers. The ending is also atrociously stupid – on every level, even for fans like me.
But despite the afflicted writing, Justin Kurzel’s vision is almost flawless as far as the visuals go. He, in fact, shoot the heck out of the film, especially the flashbacks, when Aguilar and his assassin companion Maria (Ariane Labed) parkour around ancient Andalusia, kicking some serious Templar ass. We know from “Macbeth” just how well Kurzel and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw shoot grimy, dusty, bloody medieval times, and these scenes, with vertiginous aerial shots, prove to be a new accomplishment in that vein.
You spend the film waiting for Cal to get back in the animus so we can soar around Seville again. It’s just a shame, there are so few of these scenes, I craved for more. The scenes set at the Abstergo facility aren’t as visually exciting, but the cold, almost 1984-like milieu is a nice adaption of the very first game similar setting. The main problem with that, that there’s way too many scenes in here and not enough in the medieval flashback setting, while it should have been the other way around. Also, the sound design and score are tremendous, combining ancient Arabic music with droning drums and whispers to create a hallucinatory aural experience.
I never felt so much cognitive dissonance while writing a review. One part of me truly liked the movie, since the medieval scenes were not only visually exciting but also had the true Assassin’s Creed feeling perfectly spot-on. Still, the other part of me agrees with the critics (especially of those, who didn’t play the games): the story is empty, nonsensical, and in parts feels just plain stupid. And yet, here am I: craving by the end of 2016 that’s the only blockbuster which left me desperate for a sequel.