At times fantastic, at times boring, Assassin's Creed is a real Jekyll and Hyde movie which just edges into the good territory.
Oh Assassin’s Creed, how I have been looking forward to you… and good lord how you frustrate me.
Despite a wane in popularity, both critical and commercial, over the last few years Assassin’s Creed has rapidly become one of the most successful video game franchises of the 21st century, so a movie seemed inevitable. Telling a separate story from what we’ve had on consoles thus far, the big screen counterpart of Ubisoft’s franchise sees Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a convict on death row, taken by the mysterious company Abstergo, headed up by the father-daughter combo of Sophia (Marion Cotillard) and Alan (Jeremy Irons) Rikkin, who seek to access Callum’s past through a machine known as the Animus. Callum is a descendant of the Spanish assassin Aguilar, a member of the Assassin’s Creed from 15th century Spain in the time of the Spanish Inquisition, and Aguilar holds the secret to the location of the fabled Apple of Eden, an artifact which could bring an end to violence and bring peace to the modern world.
I choose the word frustrating to describe this film, because for every moment of brilliance and every big and bold idea put forward, it seems to grind its momentum to a screeching halt. One of the consistent high points however, is the quality of the lead performances, with Fassbender in particular committing to the role both in a dramatic sense and in a physical way. Cotillard doesn’t have all too much to challenge an actress of her talents but still provides a solid performance, and Jeremy Irons is…well, Jeremy Irons in a very Jeremy Irons role, perfectly cast for such a role and he plays his character just as he should do; rather simple work for such a talent, but nothing more is really needed.
The film is also very impressive from a visual sense with some fantastic cinematography and action sequences, the scenes set within the animus are very well executed and capture the sets, costumes, props and overall tone and atmosphere of 15th century Spain to great success. And what a thrill our time spent with the assassins is! These parts of the film are undoubtedly the highlights, the action and choreography is fantastic and they are exhilarating experiences. What I wouldn’t give to have spent at least another 20-30 minutes in this world, but alas it feels a little too video game-like (haha) to really mean enough. Instead the story focuses more so on the outside world.
Rather ironically, it has problems similar to the games in terms of story. Admittedly the film has a lot of heavy lifting to do in order to set up Abstergo, the Assassins, the Templars, the Animus, Callum and the Rikkins, so in order to do this a lot of time is spent in the meandering environment of Abstergo with as much exposition and information being thrown at us, in a bid to inform the non-gamers among the audience. Whilst I personally understood everything that was going on and was able to keep on top of it all, other cinema-goers may find themselves a little lost with all of this lore to take in. Where the Spanish inquisition is exciting and entertaining, the modern-day is clunky and lethargic, throwing off the pacing and momentum. A few characters feel rather inconsequential and irrelevant given their roles in the film and there a couple of logic problems and plot holes with the set up of Abstergo as well, but I won’t state what these are through risk of spoilers.
A rather bombastic and action packed final act closes out the story nicely, forcefully pulling us out of the lethargy and tediousness of the middle portion of the film to leave us on a high. But the fact that it has to do this is clearly an issue, we pine so much for the action and thrills of the assassins in a movie called Assassin’s Creed and we are dealt with, 70% of the time, a VR company and their corruption. The big ideas and concepts are there but the execution isn’t quite.
Assassin’s Creed is far from the train wreck that most critics would have you believe (honestly I can’t fathom how some reviewers can hate this movie with a burning passion), but it is a classic case of a potentially great movie wallowing away in just “good” territory. Assassin’s Creed the texture is there, but the taste leaves a lot to be desired.
Assassin’s Creed, directed by Justin Kurzel, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox. Certificate 12a.