UK Release Date: 1st January 2017
Runtime: 115 minutes
Director: Justin Kurzel
Writer: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Ariane Labed, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K Williams
Synopsis: A convicted murderer is saved from death row by the Knights Templar, who want to access the memories of his ancestors in order to track down the mythical ‘Apple of Eden’, which can help them control free will.
Assassin’s Creed is the adaptation of the popular game series by Ubisoft, which features an era-spanning war between the Templars and the Assassins as they vie for control for magical items called Pieces of Eden that allow those who wield them to take over the world. The games use a split narrative between a present day protagonist who is forced against his will to go through his genetic memory to find out clues as to the whereabouts of these magical artefacts. It has now reached the big screen courtesy of Snowtown director Justin Kurzel and his Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
The film follows this formula with Fassbender playing death row inmate Callumn Lynch, who is rescued from the lethal injection and captured by a Templar institution run by Jeremy Irons and Cotillard’s character, Sophia, which is on the trail of the Apple of Eden. Fassbender and Cotillard are talented performers who do their best with the material, but there’s just not enough room in the finished product to make character, plot or ideas emerge fully-formed.
The split narrative works in a video game because the Assassin’s Creed games can spin their stories over the course of many hours, rather than the two hours the film allots to the complex interweaving stories of Lynch and his Assassin alter ego in the days of the Spanish Inquisition. Most of the action is dedicated to the historical setting, which is inherently a problem because there is little to connect these action sequences with the film’s main narrative. The central question of the film is whether Lynch will reveal to the Templars what they need to take over the world, but these cut-aways to the past have nothing to do with this and, worst of all, they have zero stakes.
It’s established very clearly that Lynch’s ancestor was the last person to see the magical McGuffin, so we know that everything in the movie will be fine for him until he gets it. The low stakes are compounded by the fact that the action scenes focus on the inherent danger of what is happening to the characters rather than protecting the McGuffin. Given these characters are long dead, there are no stakes for us as an audience and we are not at all invested in their survival.
This divide between action and narrative thrust leaves every character feeling hollow and under-developed. We never get a sense of Lynch other than his psychopathic nature and Cotillard’s character gets nothing beyond her constant need to impress her father. There are plenty of other characters in the facility, including two played by Brendan Gleeson and Michael K Williams, but there’s no time to develop them. Things really go off the rails in the third act and I can’t even begin to explain the character motivations that lead to the finale and resolution.
It feels a shame to knock Assassin’s Creed as a fan of the games, but it falls into the same trap that they did. The real meat of the series and what people like is the historical setting, but the framing device takes over the entire production and jumbles everything into a mess. It’s clear that a lot of effort went into Assassin’s Creed, but it’s all wasted on a movie that is too jumbled to be interesting or even coherent.
Pop or Poop?
It’s unfortunate to see Assassin’s Creed end up as such a fiery mess on the big screen. It’s clear that a lot of talent and money has been put into making the film but, alas, it just fails on nearly every conceivable level.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.