Here’s some context. Assassin’s Creed is a video game series and I’ve played nearly all of them, so this is a franchise near and dear to me. I wanted this movie to succeed, since it has a stellar cast, but I also know there’s a curse surrounding video game movies that always makes them horrible. So let’s see!
We meet Cal (Michael Fassbender) as he’s being prepared for lethal injection. The world thinks he’s dead but he wakes up in a facility where a doctor (Marion Cotillard) needs his help. See, there’s an artifact that was lost hundreds of years ago and one of Cal’s ancestors was the last one to see it. This woman (and her father, played by Jeremy Irons) have found a way to relive memories of your ancestors, so they plug Cal in and have him relive the life of Aguilar, an assassin in 15th century Spain. In Spain, he fights alongside another assassin named Maria (Ariane Labed).
This mythology is fascinating and the movie did a decent enough job of explaining this constant feud between these two factions, that of the Assassins and the Templars. The games got a bit convoluted but this movie was able to trim some of that fat (some at least). For people unacquainted with the games, this should be fairly interesting. Living through your ancestors eyes? It’s a very cool concept and the movie does a good job of setting up people other than Cal, such as Moussa (Michael Kenneth Williams) whose ancestor was an assassin focused on voodoo and poison. This could lead to other films and spinoffs easily, just as the games have done.
The whole movie is really carried by Michael Fassbender, who does a perfectly fine job. I like that Cal isn’t a completely good character, making for an interesting arc. Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons are both fine as well, as you’d expect.
This movie has plenty of cool moments, meaning that someone understood what made this franchise interesting in the first place. We have jumping assassinations, badass weapons, and more than a few “leaps of faith.” The problem here is how those things were implemented, which we’ll get to.
What doesn’t work?
On paper, the writing team understood that Aguilar needed cool moments. In execution, these cool moments became a mess and often undecipherable. The fight sequences are full of shaky-cam and quick cuts, you never see a blow land. Chase sequences cut frequently to give you the illusion that things are fast and hectic, while really just using lazy movie magic to cheat you out of any substantial moments. In fights that should have been really cool, you never see more than one maneuver executed in a row, which either means the talent couldn’t remember (or pull off) a proper sequence of moves or that someone in editing thought it lacked punch. It comes off very amateur and robs the movie of many cool moments.
Also, the movie is obsessed with showing us what Fassbender’s Cal is doing while he’s plugged into this machine, so every fight scene cuts back and forth between Spain and current-day, as he mimics the fight scenes in this mechanical device. It’s jarring and unnecessary.
There’s a bigger problem though and I think it comes down to the casting of Cotillard and Irons. “We have these huge names, so they need more substantial roles.” This blossoms into our Spanish adventure being minimized and our current-day storyline becoming more and more prominent. The best parts of the movie should be in Spain but we keep leaving those moments. We get this badass female character but we don’t even really learn her name (or really anyone’s name) because we spend such an insignificant amount of time in that setting.
And lastly, the movie’s actual plot devolves in the climax, starting with a strange moment between Fassbender and the animus, the device he’s plugged into. This moment and the rest of the movie after that, become confusing and overly complicated, if it even makes sense at all. A simple story is fine but instead it all unravels at the end.
While Assassin’s Creed didn’t break the curse, it’s not as horrible as people are saying. There is definite potential, with cool moments occasionally and decent performances. All of these cool moments are undercut though with bad editing, underused characters, and a color palette that is incredibly boring to look at. There are shining moments here but not many, as we continually leave our exciting Spanish story to come back to a lackluster modern day storyline.