Assassin's Creed review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Assassin’s Creed seems to be aiming to be the most confusing video game movie ever made. There’s a perfect moment in the movie where Michael Fassbender’s character smirks sorrowfully and mutters “What the f**k is going on here?” It was a question that I had as well the way I couldn’t make heads or tails of a plot that is perhaps the most convoluted of all video game adaptations. That look of confusion on Fassbender’s face almost had me questioning if that was acting or if he really was confused about what was going on in this script.
I don’t even know where to begin with such a laughably bad movie. Let’s start with the MacGuffin, as those are usually pretty hilarious. There’s an ancient relic known as the Apple of Eden, a mechanical fruit (I suppose) that contains the secret to controlling humanity’s free will and taming violence. How does that work? The movie is too busy piling on the ill-defined story and action elements to be bothered with such questions.
A secret league of assassins in the 1400s has hidden the Apple and now a group of Templars in the modern 21st century want to find it. And this is where the movie goes off the rails. The Templars have developed a machine that can use “DNA memories” to allow the assassin descendants to see what their ancestors experienced. Did I say "see"? I meant be whipped around a room with knives in your hands in the world’s most expensive virtual reality video game. Why must this machine whip the descendants around the room? The answer is the same reason for everything in this movie: Because it looks cool. Or at least the filmmakers think it does.
There’s an A-list cast assembled for this production, but they’re working with the most mediocre script and passive of direction. Fassbender plays the descendant of an assassin leader that has no character outside of being confused before turning into the bland action man that quickly masters the art of combat (it’s apparently in his blood). Marion Cotillard plays a scientist that takes a liking to Fassbender’s character, but her character is so poorly written that her actual defense for her work has her stating, “I’m a scientist” (you know, in case you forgot). Jeremy Irons could have brought some classic acting charm to the role of an evil CEO, but he’s so bored and uninterested in this plot that I wonder if he can comprehend even a third of the ridiculous plot.
The action scenes, most of which taking place in 1400s Spain, could have been the saving grace for the picture. They’re certainly staged well for plenty of roof jumping, horseback chases and close-quarters combat, as well as setting a record for one of the largest stunt jumps in cinema history. But the camerawork and editing of these scenes render any cool factor to these sequences moot. I once more found myself in a state of confusion during these chases and fights where it’s hard to associate the characters with the locations in a blur of knives, arrows and swords. Even the more tame action sequences that don’t rely on much movement still have a lowered level of intensity, as in a scene where Fassbender slits the throat of a lead baddie in one of the most boring throat-slashings I’ve ever seen. How can a movie have this much violence and still be a dour and boring snooze fest?
We should be feeling something for the other assassin league prisoners that eventually join forces with Fassbender, but there isn’t much of any character interaction to warrant such comradery. The only scene Fassbender shares with the prisoners is in one-sided conversations and blank stares in the cafeteria. Oh, and I guess you’re supposed to care about these characters when some of them suffer tragic deaths. Rest in peace, random prisoner who gave Fassbender an odd look.
Assassin’s Creed is a special kind of bad movie in how incomprehensible it is on every level, from its laughable premise to its ill-thought technology to the punishingly dull atmosphere of the unexplained. One could write this off as a studio meddling with a video game property, but this production was co-produced by the video game studio Ubisoft. Between this and Blizzard helming the dismal mess of Warcraft, it’s clear that even the companies conceiving the video game properties are not adept at adapting their own properties for the big screen. There were many fans of the video games hoping with the talent involved that Assassin’s Creed could break the curse of bad video game movies. Even with the likes of director Justin Kurzel (2015’s MacBeth), it merely reaffirms.