Unrepentant murderer Callum Lynch is extracted from death row by a shady organisation know as the Templars in order for their research team to extract information from his ancestor via genetic memories. Callum must relive the memories of Aguilar de Nerha of 15th Century Spain to uncover an artefact coveted by The Templars, which in turn will bring about the subservience of mankind.
I will begin by saying that I’ve been a fan of the Assassin’s Creed video games since the late 00s. This decade old franchise has seen 10+ console titles as well as numerous comics, novels and mobile games. As is always the case with such gargantuan properties, the overall plot is a convoluted mess but the core gameplay mechanics and interesting, historical settings are what keep gamers returning to the wellspring yearly for each new title.
Pretty much the least enjoyable aspect of the games are the segments set in present day and sure enough, Justin Kurzel and the screenwriters decided to set around 70% of the film adaptation among the muted greyscale of a contemporary setting. An Assassin’s Creed game set mostly during The Spanish Inquisition’s religious purge would’ve been amazing but here we get around a third of the movie set within that timeframe with pofaced, underdeveloped characters and the muddiest, smokiest, dingiest of colour palettes hiding the digital seams.
This movie is ugly as sin, which is completely inexcusable considering the costume and set design, the visual effects and practical stuntwork. There’s one 1490s-set chase in particular that whips back and forth so quickly that I gave up trying to make any sense of it. I’m sure the fight choreography was amazing but the Jason Bournelike aesthetic placed the shaky camera in a position that meant you couldn’t see half of the action.
The audience’s investment is placed firmly in the modern day scenes but besides an interesting relationship between Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard there’s nobody here to grab on to. Michael Fassbender’s given nothing to work with and flits between Neo’esque chosen one and cr-cr-crazy inmate with about as much enthusiasm as somebody washing the dishes. Brendan Gleeson, Michael K. Williams and Charlotte Rampling are just kinda “there” and Denis Ménochet threatens to give a dynamic performance for a brief moment before reverting to sub-standard Bond henchman.
Watching Duncan Jones’ sort-of-ok-ish Warcraft last year I had no investment in the world but still went along for the ride. The visuals were spectacular, the pacing had some energy to it and I think I managed to keep up with the ridiculous place and character names. There were moments when I was certain I was missing little in-jokes and nods for ardent fans but that didn’t bother me as the silly fantasy aspect was entertaining enough. The most baffling aspect of Assassin’s Creed was the complete lack of fan service. While I certainly wouldn’t want the kind of cameos or easter eggs that pull the audience out of the picture, I wouldn’t have minded a little something-something to keep me occupied during the painfully boring bits. Besides the basic science fiction premise there was little here to connect this to the universe the film is supposedly set in.
Now, I wanted to enjoy Assassin’s Creed for the fun, silliness of the premise. In spite of my enjoyment of the games I went in with reasonably low expectations having read some not-so-merciful reviews. Even with my expectations buried somewhere lower than an even numbered Resident Evil sequel I was still disappointed. The colour palette is dull, some of the action is shot and edited in a bafflingly spasmodic way and the film feels like an apologetic effort for the general public that manages to strip away the kinetic swashbuckle and fantastical science fiction of the games.
You know… the fun bits.
One of the film’s saving graces is Jed Kurzel’s score, which is unnecessarily brilliant. It contains elements of Craig Armstrong by way of (oldschool British electronic outfit) Hybrid. The score manages to punctuate and accentuate the onscreen action, elevating some of the better scenes and propping up the less engaging.
It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a chase scene on horses which looks great. There’s a scene involving a fiery escape which is great until it becomes incomprehensible. The visual effects while Fassbender’s Callum/Aguillar is in the Animus are interesting and the final reel escalates toward a fitting conclusion without neatly resolving all of the plot threads.
Assassin’s Creed feels like a missed opportunity. It’s far too serious for it’s own good and makes no attempt to transpose the action-packed vibrancy of the games onto the big screen. This wasn’t the videogame adaptation saviour some of us were hoping for. Oddly enough, I feel like a Len Wiseman or Paul WS Anderson could’ve injected some frenetic fun into what is a flat, dull and ugly film.
Assassin’s Creed is out now.
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