The last collaboration between Director Justin Kurzel and Michael Fassbender left me feeling cheated that they’d cut too much out of the Scottish Play, rushing through it for the film adaptation, so it’s with not a little irony that I had the exact opposite experience with this polished but ponderously dull Assassin’s Creed video game adaptation.
For centuries, The Knights Templar have waged war on the Brotherhood of Assassins, determined to gain control of the Apple of Eden which the Assassins have sworn to protect. Whoever controls the Apple of Eden will gain access to the genetic code for Free Will and be able to rule the world.
Opening in late 15th century Granada, we see Aguilar de Nerha (Michael Fassbender) being inducted into the Brotherhood and being told that their ‘lives are meaningless. The Apple is everything’ in a scene that feels like a crass fourth-wall breaking reference to “Steve Jobs”. There’s an unintentionally hilarious moment as the title sequence begins when ‘Entrance Song’ by The Black Angels crashes in and it looks like it disturbs the meeting of Assassins but the titles themselves are brief and suddenly we find ourselves flashing forward to 1986 and Aguilar’s descendant, Cal Lynch witnessing his father murder his mother before fleeing as Templar troops arrive. Yet another flash forward brings us to the present day where Cal (Michael Fassbender) is sentenced to death for a murder. But his execution places him in the hands of the Abstergo Foundation, the modern day front for the Knights Templar.
With nothing less than mankind’s Free Will at stake, it’s disappointing that this glacially paced movie offers so few reasons to choose to watch it. The historical scenes are handsomely staged but the action is marred by muddy bronze-hued CGI and terrible lighting consigning much of the best of the action to the shadows of the screen. The constant (if skilfully executed) cutting back and forth from the present day Animus (a weirdly kinetic genetic memory “Matrix”) robs any of the action of its drama because you’re constantly reminded it’s a simulation. The present day scenes are saddled with an excess of exposition as the movie tries to accommodate all those cut scenes without providing the audience the option to skip them.
Having never played any of the games, I can only look at “Assassin’s Creed” as a movie and as such, it’s a sluggish, convoluted and boring waste of two hours. Genetic memory or no, I’m pretty sure my ancestors disapprove of how I spent this particular two hours of my life. The tangled plot and its improbable MacGuffin feel lifted directly from an early Dan Brown draft before even he dismissed it and while Fassbender gives it his brooding best, nobody else around him seems remotely invested in the sub-“Inferno” conspiracy theory and Renaissance Free Running shenanigans on offer. Marion Cottilard, in particular, seems half asleep throughout the movie, at least providing the audience someone they can identify with.
I have to assume the games are more fun to play than this movie is to watch. The curse of video game adaptations is still very much alive, it seems, and is no respecter of the quality of the cast thrown at it. Production design does not a movie make, and Assassin’s Creed has little to offer beyond its looks.