Movie Review : Assassin's Creed (2016)
Assassin's Creed is an iconic open-world video game series where you have to sneak on people and stab them in the neck with a hidden blade. It involves a whole lot of running from angry mobs and Templar knights too, but it's a lot of fun. The overarching plot is some grade A time travel conspiracy theory schlock, but who cares, right? As long as you can stab unsuspecting despots in their stupid face. No Assassin's Creed gamer in his right mind would've thought it was a great movie waiting to happen, but here we are. There is a movie adaptation that exists albeit few people have seen it and those who did regretted their experience. Is the Assassin's Creed movie as bad as the critics made it out to be? I found out.
If you're not already familiar with the video games, Assassin's Creed might be confusing. The movie opens up on a child walking on his freshly murdered mother. Standing next to her is the child's father, telling him to run away from an impending battle. The child turned out to become Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), low life and murderer put to death via lethal injection in Huntsville penitentiary in Texas. Lynch wakes up in a research facility in Madrid, Spain a couple hours after being put to death and it being brought to a giant fucking machine called the animus, which is supposed to make him sync with the genetic memories of his ancestor. This is all happening within the first couple minutes of the movie, mind you. Callum turned out to be at the center of an inter-generational war between Templars and assassins with the fate of mankind at stake and only he can locate a powerful artifact his ancestor Aguilar de Nehra has hidden away from Templar control centuries ago.
I guess it's quite confusing after all.
That said, Assassin's Creed wasn't nearly as bad as people made it out to be. My biggest apprehension was that it wouldn't be any fun without the murderous gameplay, but the pulse-pounding medieval action scenes turned out to be the next best thing. They made me feel like firing up my old PS3 and playing the early games again *. Assassin's Creed uses no bullshit shaky camera gimmicks to conceal its director's incapability of shooting an action scene. Justin Kurzel, who also directed smart indie creeper The Snowtown Murders, was dealt a shoddy hand with this script and found a way to showcase his talent anyway. Kuzel captures the breathless excitement of playing the video games in slickly shot action scenes and while it's about the only thing to movie has to offer, it's kind of neat, to be honest.
So yeah, Assassin's Creed is another video game adaptation that was doomed from the start...because it's kind of dumb to begin with. And that script goes the extra mile in order to make it dumber in every possible way. So, the Templars are trying to take control over mankind using an artifact called the Apple of Eden, which predates humanity, right? And the assassins are the appointed protectors of free will because...because...who the fuck knows. They protect free will by killing bad guys that want to snatch it away and actively taking away the right of mankind to choose its own fate. In the world of Assassin's Creed, freedom is not taking any decisions because nihilism and shit. Templars want to create a utopia through control and the nihilistic assassins are fine with status quo. Their world view is equally shitty if you ask me.
But that script, guys. That script. It is SO BAD. Templars are trying to locate the Apple of Eden by kidnapping the descendants of assassins, synching them with their ancestors using the animus and therefore turning them into fighting machines ** and keeping them all in the same place? So Templars are basically recreating the army they spent centuries trying to eradicate and let them wander like cattle in a research facility full of medieval weapons conveniently kept in glass cases. What the fuck? And what is Callum's fucking problem? The Templars keep giving him his assassin's blades when he enters the animus and it never crosses his mind to stab somebody with them? Speaking of cattle, when your protagonist can't make choice for himself even when his life's at stake, you know your movie is built on shaky ground. I know Callum is supposed to embody the assassins' nihilism, but he comes off as a bitch.
So, Assassin's Creed wasn't nearly as stupid as I thought it would be, but it's still pretty stupid. It's still a rather successful video game adaptation by the absurdly low historic standards of the endeavor. If there's any saving grace to it, it's that director Justin Kurzel's craftsmanship pointed out flaws that predate the movie. I will blaspheme at the altar of video game demiurge Patrice Désilets here and say that it's not a very smart or engaging story to begin with. That, Justin Kurzel understood and he went above and beyond trying to conceal that problem, but it seemed like he was the only member of the production who cared about that fact. Watch it if you're a fan of the video games because it's kind of an enlightening exercise. Don't even bother if you're not familiar. It'll come off like a Dan Brown on quaaludes kind of movie and it'll only piss you off.
* I've only played the first three titles.
** It's actually in the game. It's called the bleeding effect.