– By Paulie Spiceflow –
When will they learn. Hollywood has tried, over and over, to cash in on popular video games with movie crossovers. Over and over, they have failed. Assassin’s Creed is yet another failure. Well cast and loaded with quality martial arts actions, the movie unfortunately is never able to get across exactly what the hell is going on and why you should care.
Why is it so hard to make a video game movie? One major problem on display in this film is world-building. Video game movies often require a lot of it and almost always fail to do it effectively. The audience never feels fully immersed in the fictional world and therefore cannot feel strongly about what happens within it. Only those already familiar with the fictional world will feel anything toward it.
Comic book movies have a similar problem but have largely overcome it. The great thing about Avenger movies in particular, is that you do not need to be a comic book reader to enjoy them. All the world-building and backstory are presented clearly and concisely. The audience is successfully immersed in the new universe, and know the stakes. That is why Avenger movies consistently earn over $200 million domestically. Out of the dozens of movies based on video games, only a couple have managed to break $100 million. The top grossing video game-based movie of all time, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider earned $130 million, but that might have had more to do with Angelina Jolie’s amazing breasts.
Call me a sexist pig if you want, but that movie ain’t about archeology.
The premise of Assassin’s Creed video game franchise is actually very cool. If executed properly, it would’ve made for a good movie or an awesome TV show. That didn’t happen, sadly.
Did I Miss Something?
Throughout Assassin’s Creed I had the feeling I missed something. This happens occasionally when I don’t hear a piece of key dialogue or have to run to the bathroom and miss an important scene. Usually it’s just a detail or two. In this movie, I felt like I missed an entire Act. The movie has an insanely elaborate plot that required a lot of explanation. To make matters worse, the movie did an awful job explaining it.
Video game narratives are meant to span dozens of hours, providing endless action and elaborate puzzles. Packing and condensing that narrative to a 2-hour format is not easy. Over the last fifteen or twenty years, Hollywood screenplay writers and directors have done an abysmal job. Assassin’s Creed is no exception. By the end of the movie, the central conflict still isn’t very clear, lost in a sea of subplots, pseudo-history, genetics, family drama, and cliché dialogue.
It’s a Long, Long Story
To give you an idea of how elaborate the plot truly is, here is a summary: Before the first ancient civilizations, there was an advanced culture that left behind powerful relics (basically a subtle twist on the Atlantis myth). Two military orders, the Knights Templar and Assassins, have been fighting to recover those relics over centuries. The Templars want the relics to help bring peace to the world through conformity and order. The Assassins value free will, even though it can result in violent results. They prefer no order, morality, or legal code of any kind.
Around the 1490s, the Templar forces were gaining control of Spain. The Assassins, defenders of the Muslim Sultanate, also protect a relic known as the Apple of Eden. Supposedly, it contains a pure genetic code free of the mutations or abnormalities that cause violent tendencies. The Apple was lost in the sands of time but both orders are still desperately trying to find it in the 21st century.
Fast forward to today, Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) saves a death row inmate, a Cal Lynch, from execution (Michael Fassbender). Cal is a descendant of the assassin who hid the Apple from the Templars back in the 1490s. Using a powerful machine called the Animus, the Templars search through his genetic memories to find out where he hid the Apple. The Templar descendants also have a bunch of assassin descendants wandering around a compound like a bunch of mental patients, damaged from too much time in the Animus. They look upon Cal with suspicion, angry that he is betraying the Creed… one he never swore allegiance to, but whatever.
We still haven’t gotten to the backstories of the three main characters, played by the talented Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons (who plays Sophia’s father). That’s a whole other movie right there. Cal Lynch is an interesting character to start with but is lost in the whirlwind of time travel and hand-to-hand combat. The father-daughter dynamic between Irons and Cotillard also could’ve been interesting. Sadly, the movie just didn’t have time to explore much of these character arcs.
It Sounds Cool, Let’s Use It!
Assassin’s Creed is like many movies marketed toward adolescent boys: it incorporates a lot of bad ass one liners. Boys love dialogue that sounds cool, because more than anything, they want to be cool. Right? The best stuff comes from classic gangster movies but they also like to add some trite historical quotes or bits from religious scripture. None of the screenwriters seem to know what any of it means, but it sounds cool.
There is plenty of bad assery, petty posturing, and bad riddles thrown about this movie. Most of it is unoriginal. Fassbender even repeats his Magneto line “let’s find out” when asked if he is ready to back into the Animus (a line he utters in X-Men: First Class when Xavier asks him a similar question, in a very similar situation). In other scenes, the characters have these intense moments and deliver what are suppose to be devastatingly dramatic lines. Only they aren’t. In other words, Assassin’s Creed suffers from same problem as other video game movies, bad writing.
Historical Accuracy? Nope
This ain’t The Da Vinci Code. If Dan Brown plays with history, Assassin’s Creed abuses it with malice. The Templars and Assassins of history bear little resemblance to the powerful orders portrayed in this movie. The Templars were exterminated well before 1492, the time Cal travels back to in the Animus. The movie depicts them as the power behind the Christian ascendancy in Spain. There were no assassins (known then as the hashashin) in Spain. The hashashin were a small Muslim sect fighting the Sunni-dominated Seljuc authority in the Middle East. While the historical Templars were fundamentalist Christians, there is hardly anything Christian about them in this movie. The Assassins are depicted as atheistic agents of chaos, despite their devout Muslim origins.
But hey, it’s a video game. Who cares right? They look cool and sound cool.
Hiding Behind Marion Cotillard’s Face
This movie will satisfy fans of the video game franchise but very few others. It races through an overdone plot, squandering a great cast and a pretty awesome premise. The movie tries to hide its inadequacies with tons of action and countless scenes with Marion Cotillard staring stoically at Fassbender or Irons. Seriously, about a third of the movie is just her…staring. Cotillard is a talented and attractive woman, but simply staring stone-faced with a few cool lines does not make for a great movie.
Assassin’s Creed is not worth a theater ticket, not even a matinee. Perhaps a year from now, if you have nothing better to watch one night, order it for a few bucks. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it.
Paulie Spiceflow is a regular contributor, movie reviewer and unbelievable smart ass. He prides himself on his excessive knowledge of movies, TV, books, internet memes, and pop cultural references. During college, he spent minimal hours studying but took full-advantage of the free internet and lack of bills to broaden his knowledge in numerous genres including spoof comedy, fantasy, Shakespeare, military history, zombies, and cartoons.