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Thursday, 5 January 2017

Assassin's Creed

(M) ★½

Director: Justin Kurzel.

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed, Denis Ménochet, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams.

Michael Fassbender can't save Assassin's Creed from continuing 
the curse of the video game adaptation.

A YEAR ago there was a feeling we would finally see the release of a genuinely good movie based on a video game.

The two great hopes driving this thought bubble were Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed – two of gaming’s biggest franchises.

When Warcraft flopped with critics and the box office alike (only its takings in China stopped it from being a total disaster), attention turned to Ubisoft’s era-spanning adaptation, which had attracted a quality cast. Surely this would be the film to break the video game movie curse, right?

Nope. It’s not. It’s worse than Warcraft, which to be fair wasn’t a total pile of crap but that’s still not saying a hell of a lot.

Fassbender stars as Callum Lynch, a death row inmate whose execution is faked so he can be taken by the Abstergo Foundation, which is run by the father-daughter team of Alan and Sophia Rikkin (Irons and Cotillard). The Rikkins want to tap into Callum’s ancestry via a machine called the animus, which allows Callum to relive past lives, in particular the existence of 15th century assassin Aguilar de Nerha (also Fassbender).

Aguilar was believed to be the last person to have possession of the Apple of Eden, an ancient device said to “contain the genetic code for free will” and which the Abstergo Foundation hopes to use to end all violence.

There are many confounding things about Assassin’s Creed, the biggest one being the presence of such a talented cast who, despite their best efforts, can’t elevate proceedings. Fassbender’s Callum spends the first hour in a perplexed daze, trying to figure out how he ended up where he is and what the hell is going on – I suspect Fassbender didn’t have to do much acting for that. Elsewhere, he is determined and hard-working, but he’s fighting a losing battle.

Cotillard does her best to deliver some truly dire lines, as does Irons, with the latter no stranger to starring in such duds, despite being an absolute talent. Gleeson pops up in a pointless cameo, but at least we get to know who his character is. No such luck for many of their co-stars. The flow-on from this is that when a few side characters are killed off late in the piece, no one will care. The music and the direction tries to tell us to care, but it’s too late.

Speaking of the music, the score by Jed Kurzel (brother of the director) is annoying, continually drawing attention to itself and distracting the viewer from what’s going on (which probably isn’t a bad thing).

His brother's direction is also annoying. Assassin’s Creed, as a gaming franchise, is renowned for its parkour, its fluid fighting style, and the incredible feats pulled off by its heroes. On the big screen, that opens up the opportunity for stunt people to do remarkable things, and they do just that in this film. The real shame is we rarely get to see such amazing stunts clearly due to over-editing, unnecessary camera tricks, and hazy cinematography. Everything looks like it’s been shot in a dusty sun room, late in the afternoon. Yes, it’s pretty, but aren’t we here to see the cool fights and the athletic free-running?

The great irony about this adaptation is that the best part of the film is the worst part of the games. A common complaint about the Assassin’s Creed franchise is that the whole animus subplot rips you out of the good part of the game, ie. the running-around-and-killing-people bit. In the movie, the animus is worked in well, pulling us back and forth between the past and the modern day in an interesting way.

But this high point, and the few fights and stunts we get to see clearly, can’t save us from the ever-increasing piles of dumb. The filmmakers are more concerned with cramming cool weapons and other such Easter eggs from the games into scenes and are less worried about good dialogue (everyone speaking in riddles is not good dialogue), interesting characters or fixing any plotholes.

There are so many questions left by this film, and not in a “I can’t wait for the sequel” kind of way. Why are all these people in this facility if all they need is Callum? Why do some guards have crossbows? What does the Apple of Eden do and how the hell will it erase free will? Is it magic or something? Do they have to put in everyone’s DNA? How is that even possible? How does Sophia Rikkin not realise the ramifications of what she’s doing? Why does Alan Rikkin spend all his time glowering through windows and watching videos of himself giving speeches?

Maybe hardcore Assassin’s Creed fans will love it, but I suspect even they will be disappointed. This leaves the question of who would want to watch this film.

That's one more question left hanging by yet another bad video game adaptation.

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