Assassin Creed
An abysmal tragedy

Justin Curzel

Michael Lesslie

Movie Review


Directed by: Justin Kurzel

Written by: Michael Lesslie, Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Scott Frank

This December, gamers across the globe held their breaths in anticipation. Assassin’s Creed was going to be it: the movie that would break the game-to-film curse. It would drag this jinxed genre from the mud, burying the collective failures of Warcraft, Mortal Kombat, Hitman, Silent Hill – you name it! – ­in one powerful, action-packed punch.

This December, gamers across the globe turned blue in the face and passed out. Yep. That’s how bad Assassin’s Creed: the movie is.

With director Justin Kurzel at the helm, writers Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Michael Lesslie, and Scott Frank attempt to weave a fresh story into an established universe.

Within the first 10 seconds of runtime, an opening text crawl informs viewers of the secret, timeless war between Templars and Assassins. The Templar Order seeks an Apple of Eden – a Piece of Eden that, like in the Bible, seeded the first sin. This Piece of Eden embodies the genetic code to free will, and the Templars aim to harness its power, stifling freedom at its core in order to establish an obedient new world. Opposing this militaristic Order is the Assassin Brotherhood: a surreptitious organisation that shields these artifacts to protect humanity’s right to free will.

And now, meet Cal – an angry death-row prisoner who takes a staggering 2 hours and 20 minutes to process this 10-second opening crawl. He is rescued and held captive by Obstergo Industries, which is essentially a multinational front for the modern-day Templar Order. Doctor Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) finds and recruits our protagonist (Michael Fassbender) and introduces him to the Animus: a virtual reality machine that allows one to access one’s genetic memories, experiencing the world through an ancestor’s eyes. Rikkin and her father (Jeremy Irons) hope to trace the last known Apple of Eden through Cal’s 15th century counterpart, Aguilar de Nerha.

With Fassbender hooked into the Animus, audiences are transported from Abstergo’s bare, steely interiors to the wild landscapes of 1492 Spain. While the in-game Animus is a chair-like configuration, for its cinematic version, production designer Andy Nicholson transforms the machine into a dramatic, gravity-defying contraption that stubbornly steers clear of any Matrix similarities. Unfortunately for viewers, this new design is anything but immersive. With shaky editing (Christopher Tellefsen) and almost jarring, disconnected cuts between the past and present, the Spanish Inquisition’s allure is quickly neutralised.

Although the bulk of this franchise’s appeal hinges on the protagonist’s ability to navigate the past, Fassbender only ever visits 1492 three times in the film. Assassin’s Creed is told through a hazy, disjointed narrative that prevents viewers from forming emotional connections with characters. Instead, A-list stars flit across the screen in hollow attempts to stitch broken scenes into a story. One shudders at the realization that not even Jeremy Irons as the stony Alan Rikkin, Brendan Gleeson as the despondent Joseph Lynch, or Ariane Labed as the fiery Maria, could have saved this film. If the vacuous plot hasn’t done it already, Marion Cotillard’s dreadful accent and lifeless eyes will successfully bore one to tears.

While Cal is by far the most compliant angry protagonist to walk the big screen, his ancestor, Aguilar, pretty much just runs around beating people up for the entirety of his screentime. Then again, Aguilar’s fight scenes are the only worthy results of this film. While a large chunk of this should be attributed to Damien Walters’ record-setting 125-foot freefall, the staggering impact of this jump is almost immediately evaporated by Cotillard’s dull parroting of the phrase: “Leap of Faith.” Nevertheless, stunt co-ordination (Tomas Ereminas) is breathtaking, and it can’t be ignored that, in spite of his failings as an unhinged Cal Lynch, Fassbender’s Aguilar is in stunning shape.

Through a smattering of game characters such as Baptiste (Michael K Williams) and Rikkin, as well as a host of original weapons such as Altaïr’s sword, Edward Kenway’s flintlock pistols and the signature Hidden Blades, Kurzel and Ubisoft aim to pay deference to source material. In Aguilar’s sequences, the film mirrors the game’s fast-paced motion, and subtleties such as guards pelting Aguilar and Maria as they climb up buildings is satisfying to watch. Overall, the screenplay does attempt to establish accurate lore and intricate backstories, but none of this is actually explored – it is only told; never shown. Technology and its principles are expressed, but never explained. Characters spout cliché lines that quickly slump into Kurzel’s minefield of plotholes. Dialogue serves no purpose but to further befuddle the viewer.

To the gamer, watching this film was like being strapped to one’s seat, being forced to stare aghast at the over-CGI’d, slow-motion trainwreck that is Kurzel’s interpretation of a riveting action-adventure series. Halfway through the movie, the group sitting beside this reviewer actually stormed out of the cinema hall in disgust. Upon interviewing non-gamer viewers in the same hall, however, it became apparent that the film’s decision to deviate from canon mythology might only have affected the purists. To the uninitiated, it is an entertaining yet exposition-heavy ride, and although the audience was considerably divided over the film’s overall ranking, both parties couldn’t deny the script’s unforgivably lazy approach to, well, everything.

Considering Kurzel, Fassbender and Cotillard’s fluid partnership through their critically acclaimed efforts on Macbeth (2015), one would at least expect that Assassin’s Creed be worthy of a watch. Instead, Kurzel has accomplished a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, garroting beautiful cinematography (Adam Arkapaw) and set designs (Tina Jones) with overblown visual effects (Double Negative) and an unpleasant, blaring soundtrack (Jed Kurzel).

At any rate, this movie serves as a refreshing reminder that no amount of CGI or A-list casting can save a horribly written, inelegantly concocted screenplay. Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed, by taking one too many leaps, has set itself up for a sequel that no one will ever see – and thank good sense for that.

   Tina Mohandas

Tina Mohandas is a songwriter, musician, tattoo artist, vintage motorcycle collector, and animal rights activist. Having conducted several successful events in London, she is the founder of Inferno Events in India, and co-founder of Bikerhood India. Currently writing her debut fantasy/sci-fi novel, she hopes one day to free every caged animal in the world.. .

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