The majority of videogame films are, for a lack of a better term, complete tosh. From catastrophes like Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros. and most of Uwe Boll‘s filmography to films that are close to viewer satisfaction like Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children and Ace Attorney, the reputation of videogame films is not something you would proudly put on a pedestal.
So when a
Creedy Assassin Assassin’s Creed adaptation was announce, I admit that I had zero expectations. Granted, I have never played the games before, but upon discovering the incredibly talented cast and crew (most of them being part of 2015’s magnificent Macbeth), my expectations went up. So do they manage to break the so-called videogame film curse or will the film just end up in the critically maligned dung-heap?
The film starts off during the Spanish Inquisition, with the Assassin’s Creed (consisting of Aguilar de Nerha and Maria, played by Michael Fassbender and Ariane Labed) taking a vow to get a certain artifact called the Apple of Eden, which is known to have powers that can stop violence and aggression in the world. They must obtain the artifact swiftly before the Templar Order obtains it for their unknown deeds.
Cutting to the present day, we see Callum Lynch (also Michael Fassbender), a criminal who is about to be given a lethal injection (that’s not a euphemism). He is then rescued (or revived?) by Abstergo Industries, which just so happens to be the present-day version of the Templar Order, headed by Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter, Sophia (Marion Cotillard).
Callum is then forced to participate in the Animus Project and relive the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar, to investigate the whereabouts of the Apple of Eden in exchange of his freedom. But during the experiments, Callum begins to understand and inexplicably immerse himself to his ancestor to the point that Alan and Sophia might have bit off a bit more than they could chew.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Does the film break the videogame film curse? Absolutely not. The storytelling is incredibly baffling, the action scenes are perfunctory and uneventful and the exposition is overwhelming to the point of absolute tedium. Hell, many of the story elements don’t make any sense.
For example, the Animus is portrayed as a machine that locks on to the participant to allow mobility within a circular room. So when the participant is running straight during the past, where is the participant going during the present? And this applies for tall heights as well. How high is too high when the building of the present day is quite limited?
It’s not even fully explained if Callum died during his sentencing or he was rescued before he got the injection. How do the people at Abstergo know where and when Callum in the Animus end up to become Aguilar in the past? There are so many illogical inconsistencies and plot holes that if the film was a bulletproof vest, it would be destroyed and mangled beyond recognition.
The sheer talent of the film absolutely try their best with the crummy script and cardboard cutouts substituting as characters. Michael Fassbender works hard to tap into the essence of his character(s), but he only succeeds in showing his own charisma and star power, instead of giving anything memorable that could’ve come from the script.
This can be due to the fact that main characters in videogames are in fact ciphers; basically proxies of the players that they can put themselves into to experience the story. But this is a film, not a videogame.
Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Ariane Labed, Brendan Gleeson; how the hell did they end up in this film? All of them struggle valiantly to give life to their characters and only Cotillard ends up with an arc that actually has some impact and that is only due to her performance. Much like the viewers, the cast were probably all present due to the involvement of rising director, Justin Kurzel. Though Snowtown and Macbeth have shown us a high competent auteur, even he he can’t save this mess.
The action scenes, which are the biggest selling point of the film, are incredibly over-edited, sanitized and shaky to the point where it is blatantly obvious that the film is sucking up to the teenage crowd to spend their money. The games were already made for people older than 17 years of age, so why doesn’t the film get made the same way? Oh that’s right, the almighty dollar, of course. There is little impact, little suspense and especially little fun be had.
It also doesn’t help that we know that Fassbender’s character will survive due to the fact that Fassbender himself announced that the story is a part of a three-film arc, so there are no stakes whatsoever. What happened to making films that were so good that people want more; instead of making feature-length commercials for future sequels and spin-offs?
But the biggest problem with the film is the storytelling. The pacing is all over the place, with exposition scenes either going way too fast (in explaining the Animus) or way too slow (in explaining the connections with Callum’s past and the present). The editing is so choppy, that it kills the little suspense the film could have earned.
The premise is interesting within of itself, but the execution would leave one incredibly puzzled. There’s even a joke in the film when Fassbender actually says “What the f**k is going on?”. Nothing else in the film is more amusing, self-aware and meta than that statement.
With so many flaws, there are some positives. Besides the insanely committed and overqualified cast, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw makes the film look epic in scope (similar in 2015’s Macbeth) during the scenes set in the past, but can only do so much in the scenes set in the present. The scenes set in Abstergo actually reminds me of the lab scenes in Fantastic Four (2015). And no, that is not a compliment. The musical score by Australian composer Jed Kurzel also adds a sense of credibility, but like the rest of the crew’s work, it can only go so far.
Another video game film adaptation, another epic fail, I’m afraid. As if the story of the film doesn’t do that already, it seriously boggles the mind that the film can assemble so much talent and yet achieve so very little.
Creedy Assassin Assassin’s Creed is a disappointment on almost every level.
Film Review Score: ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
While the film may have disappointed, the single disc Blu-Ray release of Assassin’s Creed comes crammed with over 90 Minutes of Special Features. The heart of this is an excellent, five part, 40 minute documentary called “Take The Plunge”, which takes us behind the scenes of the film.
Beyond this, a ten deleted scenes are offered, including an alternate ending. Accompanying this is a conversation with Australian director Justin Kurzel and film editor Christopher Tellefsen which I though as a particularly sound addition. It runs for just over twenty minutes and they focus on a character “Lara” that was cut from the film. An additional insightful four part in conversation series with director Justin Kurzel is also included, which also runs for a little over twenty minutes. Definitely don’t watch any of these until you’ve already watched the film, however.
A digital copy is also included along with the release, as are the film’s theatrical trailers and a photo gallery. As is my usual gripe I would have liked to have seen some audio commentary, and it would have made sense to have some sort of element that involved the game (a demo playable on PS4, or some game trailers, for instance). Look out for a couple of very minor easter eggs, too.
Special Features Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Assassin’s Creed is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.
Film Review by Harris Dang, Special Features Review by Larry Heath