Movie Review: Assassin’s Creed

Video game inspired film offers little to the uninitiated

Assassin’s Creed
Directed by Justin Kurzel
With Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams

Films made from video games tend to have a limited appeal, and very few have been more than just watchable. Assassin's Creed suffers from the same problems that afflict most of the rest of the genre. If you are not a fan of the game, then the film is pointless. If you are a fan of the game, then playing is better than watching.

Assassin's Creed brings viewers into some plot about Templars both in history and modern times, and a group of people that oppose them. Everyone wants to get their hands on something called the Apple of Eden, some great whatsit that could change mankind forever if it falls into the wrong hands.

After a brief scene set in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition, the action moves to modern times with Callum Lynch (played by Michael Fassbender) being executed. He has had a rough life since he had to flee his home as a boy just before mysterious cars surround it.

Callum soon find he is not as dead as everyone expected, but he is also not free. He is being held in a high-tech complex by a group called Abstergo Industries. They have developed some sort of machine that makes people relive what their direct ancestors did.

The industrial complex is in Spain, but as is normal in big-budget films everyone speaks English. But when he travels back to 1492 to live inside his ancestor, everyone speaks Spanish. This is annoying for expats since those scenes in the Czech Republic are shown with Czech subtitles only, and they contain a few important plot points.

The program that Callum is in is called Animus, and is run by Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard). Her father, Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) is also involved in the company. Sophia and Alan have heated arguments about it, to liven things up a bit.

The Animus program involves hooking a person in modern times up to a large armature, and the person re-creates the movements of their ancestor several centuries ago. Callum is genetically linked to Aguilar de Nerha, who was involved in some fighting in 1492. This lets us see big costumed set pieces during the Spanish Inquisition, while Callum jerks around on the metal armature in the lab. How the genes are supposed to be a key to remembering these specific actions is not explained, at least not coherently.

No film like this is complete without a bogus deadline. Veteran art house film actress Charlotte Rampling turns up as Ellen Kaye to tell the Rikkins that funding for the armature gizmo and related research will be cut off if there are no tangible results in regards to locating the Apple of Eden, ,which she also covets.

The plot has more than its fair share of gigantic holes and truly ponderous moments, balanced by a handful of decent action scenes. For those unfamiliar with the game it is based on, a lot of the film won't make much sense. Perhaps game players may also struggle, as the opaque plot is inspired by the games, but not exactly taken from them.

The cast is above average for this sort of silliness. Most of them have respectable resumes. Michael Fassbender has been in A Dangerous Method, Shame, 12 Years a Slave and the Light Between Oceans, all fairly well-received works. But he was also several of the X-Men films and other blockbusters. It makes sense for him to be in a somewhat pretentious video-game inspired film.

Marion Cotillard gave an amazing performance in Édith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (2007), earning herself and Oscar. Classically trained Jeremy Irons won an Oscar for his role as Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune (1990). Charlotte Rampling, who has lived in France for a long time, received an Honorary César in 2001, and an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2000. They bring a sense of class to the rather convoluted plot, but one wonders why they took the roles in a film that promised to be mediocre at best.

Director Justin Kurzel previously directed a version of Macbeth, also starring Fassbender and Cotillard, which may explain why those two came along on this project. That film played to good reviews and was nominated for several awards. He handles the action and the cast in Assassin's Creed with some skill, keeping viewers' attention despite the rather clumsy story. But nothing makes this film a “must see,” especially if you are not a fan of the source material.

It is better than Super Mario Bros. and Max Payne, but not as good as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Resident Evil or Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. But the video game genre is an overall disappointing lot.

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