Movie Review: Assassin's Creed

From the director who shoved Shakespeare down our throats in the most visually-captivating way possible in 2015's Macbeth, comes one of the most promising and ambitious video game adaptations of the year, Assassin's Creed. Set to break the curse of bad video game movies like 2014's Need for Speed, this year's Warcraft, and especially 1993's cringe-worthy Super Mario Bros., Justin Kurzel's Assassin's Creed managed to in some way mediate the genre's cluttered past, but at the same time, delivered one of the most disappointing films of the year. While that may be a bit harsh, the latest video game franchise to grace the screen offered little more than a quick surge of excitement, accompanied by a off-balanced blockbuster execution.

As the great war between the powerful Templar Order and the Assassins rages on into modern day, convicted criminal Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is rescued from his execution and given the ultimate ultimatum. Tasked with entering the memories of his ancient ancestor using the revolutionary technology of the Animus, Lynch must navigate the violence and corruption of the Spanish Inquisition through the eyes of his long-dead ancestor, an Assassin who has stolen and hidden a key tool in the fate of humankind. But as dark forces emerge from both the past and present, Lynch must uncover the truth behind the bend of free will that is the Apple of Eden.

With June's massive fantasy adaptation, Warcraft, delivering a subpar plot, a slew of forgettable characters, but an generous ounce of breathtaking visual effects, I went into the latest big screen video game adaptation expecting a change, as I imagined the sci-fi tale of time-traveling assassins to deliver a much more humanistic approach than that of wizards and warlocks. What I got, however, was very much the same. With director Justin Kurzel's last project, the violent and captivating adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, delivering a phenomenal tragedy with a slew of artful violence here and there, I was very much in the mindset that Assassin's Creed would deliver a fantastic visual adventure through time, with a equally-fantastic story of heroism and identity flowing through it. Looking back on Macbeth, however, I now realize the fatal flaw in Kurzel's last two films. With Macbeth for the most part feeding off of William Shakespeare's brilliant Scottish tragedy, all that Kurzel really needed to do was pit his characters into a visually-enthralling world of violence and corruption -- mostly toned to that of a dreary mid-century drama or a Mad Max film. With that, the writing was all there, Kurzel just had to make it movie magic. The same goes with Assassin's Creed -- however, the writing just wasn't there.

While I'm not calling Kurzel and Company a bad team of filmmakers, I just think one of the major flaws of this film was its substance. Much like Warcraft, the film was marketed towards both fans of the video game franchise, as well as new fans jumping on-board. The reason I got into this film (minus its attractive cast) was my intrigue in the games and to what degree the games would influence the film. While I've never played the games, I was always fascinated in the concept and characters that make the game what it is. With the film, while those concepts were mostly retained -- primarily the Animus and how it works -- much like Warcraft, the film tried to fill us up with so much exposition on the games, it didn't make time for its characters. With that, the story suffered as well.

What I imagined would be one of the biggest redeeming qualities if this film went south, the cast of the film offered little more than what you might have expected from a video game film. Employing some of the biggest names in Hollywood, like Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons, the story fed the audience less of the interesting backstories for its leading characters you might have expected, and more of the flashy exposition that kept the film chugging along. While I can't go too harsh on the fairly-attractive cast for the roles they chose, the film just never truly succeeded in making its characters relatable, let alone enjoyable to watch. With Macbeth offering up dynamic performances from both Fassbender and Cotillard among its flashy Shakespeare, there seemed to just be a lack of emotion -- and motivation -- in the performances of Assassin's Creed. 

With its writing very much sophomoric, playing through each scene giving us important knowledge, but never truly doing anything with said knowledge, Assassin's Creed became what I silently feared it would. A great set piece of fast-paced action, set against a disoriented plot of good-vs.-evil, Assassin's Creed delivered some powerful action sequences, but suffered when it came to offering up an original and coherent plot of power, greed, and free will. While it may still be an enjoyable action-heavy flick for some fans of the game, I fear those looking for any kind of true substance or character development in this adaptation will be sourly disappointed.

I gave Assassin's Creed a 6 out of 10 for its lucid action sequences, its manageable but unbalanced direction and writing, and its high-class cast who were just, sorta, there.

Michael Fassbender may not have been at his best in Assassin's Creed, but the actor has surely proven himself to be a force of nature in his many film adventures. From Macbeth to Magneto, stay tuned this week as I run through some of the biggest -- and smallest -- roles Fassbender has brought to the big screen in this month's Silver Screen Spotlight! 

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