Nothing is true, so nothing should be permitted.
There should be a special recognition for filmmakers who somehow squander great material set at their feet. Zack Snyder, for instance, had DC Comics’ two staple characters at his disposal, and yet somehow made a movie as incompetently dull as Batman V. Superman. Gary Ross had Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey, an intriguing premise, and the historical relevance to back up Free State of Jones, but he didn’t do anything with it despite having that much to work with. And don’t even get me started on Michael Bay and Transformers. That guy deserves an Oscar for how much he ruined a series about a galactic robot war on Earth.
Now we have Justin Kurzel here to continue the trend with Assassin’s Creed, a boring, stupid, frustrating experience that kills any of the fascination or thoughtfulness the video games inspired. Kurzel literally had everything to work with. Oscar-winning talent. A deep mythology built from its source material. Incredibly choreographed action that blows even Mad Max: Fury Road away. None of it amounts to anything worthwhile. Besides Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Assassin’s Creed is this year’s biggest disappointment.
Based on the video game series of the same name, Assassin’s Creed is set in the present day where a corporation named Abstergo is after an ancient macguffin called “The Apple of Eden”, a device which can control man’s free will and “cure them of violence” (The script’s words, not mine). The head of Abstergo, Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), charges his daughter Sophia (Marion Cotillard) with finding the artifact by tracking the ancestry line of the last man known to have it, an assassin from 15th Century Spain named Aguilar (Michael Fassbender). Tracking his descendants from Spain onward, Sophia discovers his only living descendant: Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), an inmate waiting on death row. After rescuing him from his execution, Sophia hooks Lynch up to this machine called the Animus, which allows you to relive the memories of your ancestors, and begins their search for the Apple of Eden.
Let me start with the film’s biggest and most fundamental flaw: the animus. This is, from what I understand, a virtual-reality machine, intended to allow users to relive the memories of their ancestors. Since its making users relive their ancestors memories, why is there a need for a crane? When Callum Lynch is in the present, he is re-enacting the movements of his ancestor from decades ago in real-time, with the crane throwing him around like a rag doll on a puppet string. Why is this necessary? If the Abstergo scientists built a machine that literally allows you to relive the past, why would anyone care if you’re mimicking them in the present? From an efficiency standpoint it makes no sense, and it seems really stupid to be flinging Michael Fassbender around in a big crane while he’s in the machine.
But you know what, that’s fine. Whatever. If Lynch has to move during his animus sessions, I can get behind that. But then that brings up another problem: the editing of these action sequences. While he’s reliving his ancestor’s memories, he’s also mimicking his actions in real-time in the animus. Because of this, the film cuts back and forth between the past and present to illustrate that Lynch is doing this. That would be fine if they did this at the beginning just to assert the idea, but then they keep cutting back and forth between the action throughout the movie. They do this constantly, like we won’t know that Lynch is re-enacting his ancestor’s movements unless they remind us every 30 seconds. The action is so choppy and poorly intercutted that its akin to switching in between two different channels on a television. You can’t keep up with what’s happening on one channel or the other, so why even bother to show us both at the same time?
This film is from Justin Kurzel, who before this has received critical acclaim for directing Snowtown and last year’s adaptation of Macbeth. What happened to him? My guess is studio interference. With this being a video game adaptation, there is an obvious pressure to relate to the aesthetic and feel of the source material in order to satisfy gamers of the original series. Add that on top of the pressure that there hasn’t be a satisfying video game movie ever (See Resident Evil, Doom, Prince of Persia, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros., etc), and you have an unreasonable amount of expectation to set on one director’s small shoulders.
All of the elements technically function in the movie. Fassbender is a powerhouse in the lead and firmly demonstrates why he’s one of the biggest rising stars in Hollywood. The premise is interesting and has the potential to explore deep ideas. And the action is impressive and depth-defying, when it isn’t cutting back and forth between the past and present.
The problem is Kurzel, and 20th Century Fox, focus on adapting the wrong parts of Assassin’s Creed. Yes, you want the action. Yes, you want the choreography. But beyond that, you also want the elements that made the video games so successful. The deep themes of religion versus identity. The lore of the Assassins and Abstergo. How it subtly ties itself to history and how it relates to humanity’s nature. The video games were successful not just because of the action. They were successful because they had a compelling, thought-provoking plot that made us question everything and trust nothing.
I think that’s the worst part of this movie, is seeing the potential in every scene, in every shot Kurzel sets up, only for it to get shot down due to one easily fixable mistake or another. If there is one thing I hate more than a bad idea, it is a good idea wasted on poor execution. Assassin’s Creed is not just a wasted film: it’s a wasted opportunity. To me, that is worse to stomach.
This is a stupid, sloppy, poorly assembled mess of a film that further asserts why video games make terrible movie adaptations. Kurzel should have saved us the trouble and chopped up the film stock into confetti. At least then it could serve a more useful purpose.