Film Review: Assassin's Creed

A long-awaited end to the videogame adaptation curse? Hardly.
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Assassin’s Creed is something of a passion project for producer/star Michael Fassbender, who shepherded the film through the development process for the better part of five years. So why does Fassbender’s performance come across as so damn bored? That’s only one of the mysteries of this half-baked videogame adaptation, alongside “How can a movie have this little personality?” and “Who thought ‘cover the screen with so much dust and sand that you can barely see anything’ is an a-OK design choice?”

Fassbender and Marion Cotillard reunite with their Macbeth director Justin Kurzel for this (in theory) pulse-pounding and thought-provoking actioner. In reality, Assassin’s Creed is neither. Fassbender plays Callum Lynch, a convicted murderer consigned to death who finds himself waking up post-lethal injection in an Apple Store-esque facility run by the Knights Templars. The Templars, you see, are on the hunt for a Magical MacGuffin: something called the “Apple of Eden,” which allows its wielder to remove humanity’s free will. (How in the hell would it…? Never mind, we have other nonsense to get to.) Lynch, as the direct descendent of master assassin Aguilar de Nerha, the man who hid the Apple some 550 years ago, is the key to the Templars retrieving it. All they have to do is hook Lynch up to the Animus, a device that allows him to relive his ancestor’s “genetic memories.”

So far, so good. As a concept, “genetic memory” is ridiculous, but who ever said action-movie plots necessarily have to be realistic? The problem here is in the execution. Namely: Good god, but Assassin’s Creed is dull.

The characters are thinly drawn with inscrutable motivations, and are thus all but impossible to relate to. The key culprits here are Lynch and Cotillard’s Sofia, the Templar scientist (and daughter of Templar head honcho Rikkin, played by a sleepwalking Jeremy Irons) who developed the Animus technology. She convinces Callum to help her by arguing that the Apple of Eden is a cure for violence. But we know—have known since the opening scroll—that “cure humanity of violence” equals “remove humanity’s good will.”

As a result, the first two-thirds of the movie become an interminable slog waiting for Callum to catch on that the Templars are evil and that he, like Aguilar, is a member of an ancient order of assassins devoted to protecting the Apple. Why does Callum believe Sofia’s obviously BS explanation, anyway? Does he know it’s bogus and just doesn’t care? How are we supposed to be sympathetic to either of them? Why do the Templars keep other assassins (most prominently a severely underutilized Michael Kenneth Williams) just hanging around and in easy reach of weaponry? Is than an Italian accent Marion Cotillard is attempting?

Some measure of cardboard character and ham-fisted plot tomfoolery could be forgiven if Assassin’s Creed’s action sequences were good, but alas, that’s not the case. The vast majority of those scenes take place in the Animus, meaning instead of Callum we see Aguilar (also Fassbender) fighting his way through Inquisition-era Spain. Kurzel made the frankly bewildering choice to pack the screen in these flashback sequences with so much “atmospheric” dust and sand that it’s oftentimes impossible to make out what’s going on. (This wholly unnecessary cinematic grittification was in play in Macbeth, which DP Adam Arkapaw also shot.)

On top of that, the action scenes are so frenetically shot and edited that when there’s the odd bit of impressive choreography, the camera never rests on it for long enough for it to register. And finally, Aguilar and his assassin compatriot, played by The Lobster’s Ariane Labed, are utterly devoid of personality, the latter to such an egregious extent that I had to double-check the credits to confirm whether they even bothered giving her a name. (They did. It’s Maria.) That’s fine if we’re talking about a videogame, where characters are often designed to be something of a blank slate for the player to map their own motivations and personalities onto. Needless to say, it doesn’t work for a movie, something Assassin’s Creed’s trio of screenwriters never seemed to figure out.

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