Assassin’s Creed (2016) Movie Review: The Leap of Fail
As a gamer who loved history, the Assassin’s Creed franchise was one that had me right from the start. From seeing Crusade-era representations of Jerusalem, Damascus and Acre to wandering the streets of Victorian Era London, Assassin’s Creed has generally been a franchise that I’ve looked forward to with each installment. And when I heard about a movie, I was skeptical, but optimistic – especially when I heard about the casting. Pulling acting heavyweights like Jeremy Irons and Brendan Gleeson into a video game movie, along with solidly talented actors Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Michael K. Williams had me thinking that perhaps they were going to pull this off.
And that’s just what I heard from reports of early screenings of a rough cut several months ago. This was the greatest video game movie ever made! Admittedly, that’s not a very high bar to hurdle; although, it at least gave me hope that the hype would pay off. But, either the reports I heard were greatly exaggerated, or the movie was changed since those preview screenings, because this film falls into all the same traps and pitfalls as pretty much every other video game movie thus far.
Written by Michael Lesslie (and later rewritten by Scott Frank, then rewritten again by Adam Cooper and Bill Collage), Assassin’s Creed tells the story of Callum Lynch as he is held imprisoned by the people who faked his death in order to gain access to the genetic memories of his ancestor to find a powerful artifact called The Apple of Eden. The synopsis sounds almost identical to that of the first game that was released back in 2007, which isn’t a great start. The story goes back and forth in time with the aid of the Animus, which allows Callum to see and act out the genetic memories of his badass Assassin ancestor Aguilar de Nerha. It’s a cool concept that works great for games, but was handled poorly here.
The best part of the games for me was always exploring and learning about the period of history we found ourselves. Instead, Inquisition-era Spain is merely the backdrop for the big action set pieces (which were great), while the main story revolved around the real world actions and relationships between the Knights Templar of Abstergo and Callum and the bits and pieces of his family history that help to flesh him out a bit. But even the handling of that seemed half-assed, with awkward dialogue, story beats that made little sense, populated with characters you didn’t get to know or end up really caring about. And it’s not the actors’ faults, as they all did well with what they were given, which didn’t seem to be much.
Kurtzel’s directing seems mildly amateurish, with a focus on hero poses and the constant snikt of the hidden Assassin blade at unnecessary moments – and pacing that was so poor that I was largely bored for most of the movie. Adam Arkapaw did a decent job as the cinematographer for most of the film until we got to the last big action scene in the final act of the film, where it ended up being lit so poorly I had a bit of trouble following what was going on on-screen. But by then, I had checked out to the point of not caring that much. The highlight of the behind the camera creative team was Justin Kurzel’s brother, Jed, who scored the film. While not giving the film quite the same musical vibe that the games had, he does create a heavy and engaging soundtrack that is easily enjoyable.
If early reports are to be believed about the state of how the rough cut of the film actually was, then maybe my criticism of Justin should really be passed onto the studio folks who decided to stick their fingers into the creative process. Either way, I walked away from this one frustrated and disappointed. Don’t bother going to see it. Instead, go back and play your favorite installment of the series – better yet, do what I’m doing: Find yourself a copy of the book the original Assassin’s Creed was inspired by and give that a read. Vladimir Bartol’s Alamut is deeper and far more interesting than this half-assed adaptation of the beloved franchise.
I walked away from this one frustrated and disappointed.