Director: Justin Kurzel
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, Denis Ménochet, Ariane Labed, Charlotte Rampling, Brendan Gleeson
MPAA Rating: (for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language)
Running Time: 1:55
Release Date: 12/21/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | December 20, 2016
Based on the popular video game series (This phrase really has become a self-fulfilling prophecy for movies), Assassin's Creed accurately recreates the stuff that most people rush through while playing one of these games. Those who know the series will know exactly what this means. Those who have not played any of the games or have no idea what they are until this movie will be confused now, but that current level of confusion will be miniscule compared to what a newcomer will experience while watching the movie.
That's because—let's face it—people don't play these particular games for the back story about how the Knights Templar and the Assassin Brotherhood have been in a centuries-old battle, between the most extreme philosophy of order and the most permissive extent of freedom. That's just an excuse for a player to roam through an assortment of cities at various points in history with lots of running, jumping, climbing, hiding, fighting, and killing.
The first few games even came up with an elaborate excuse for the setup, with a present-day company using a machine to tap into a person's "genetic memory," allowing the person to interact with the people and places of a specific point in history through the eyes of the person's ancestor (If you're not following this, that's fine, because it really is just a narrative justification). It hindered the flow and appeal of the games so much that eventually the developers all but did away with the gimmick.
It was distracting hooey in the games, and now—by way of Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage's screenplay—we have a movie that is founded upon that hooey. The plot involves a two-pronged hunt—in 1492 Spain and in the present day—for the legendary Apple of Eden, which apparently was not eaten by Adam and Eve but instead is, in actuality, a metal sphere that contains free will. No, it's not a metaphor. Within the sphere is the genetic code for what gives human beings free will. This was pretty dumb in the game, and it's really dumb here.
Our heroes are both played by Michael Fassbender. In late-15th-century Spain, he plays Aguilar, an Assassin that must protect the Apple from the encroaching Inquisition, led by the Templars. In 2016, Fassbender plays Cal Lynch, a convicted murderer whose execution by lethal injection is faked so that he can be brought to the prison-like laboratory of the Abstergo Foundation.
Cal is a distant descendant of Aguilar, and Sofia (Marion Cotillard) has developed a way for a person to access the memories of one's ancestors. It's called the Animus. A person connected to the device can relive an ancestor's memory, while a giant crane moves them around an open space, so that they actually have the feeling of doing what the ancestor is doing in the memory.
It's a neat visual, although it and a series of holographic projectors are mostly for the benefit of the onlookers (It definitely doesn't aid the person connected to the Animus, since Cal gets pummeled into the ground quite a bit). It also ensures that the action in Spain plays like a distraction, since director Justin Kurzel repeatedly cuts back to Cal doing what Aguilar is doing in the past (One memory ends on a literal cliffhanger, and another ends mid-deadly-fall, without ever explaining how he survives).
Well, that's part of the distraction. Most of it is in how Kurzel assembles the action sequences, filled with lots of stunts and bloodless killings, in ways that render them unintelligible. Either it's the use of smoke and haze, or it's the rapid-fire cutting between participants in the fights and free-wheeling chases (One—across the roofs and up the walls and bouncing between ropes—through the city of Granada is effective).
Everyone wants the Apple. Cal thinks it will free him from his new prison. Aguilar wants to stop the Templars from getting it. Sofia thinks it will end violence, and her not-so-secret Templar father (Jeremy Irons) wants it to end humanity's free will. The other inmate Assassins in Abstergo want to stop all of this. The screenplay makes sure everyone's motives about the MacGuffin are clearly and repeatedly stated, lest anything like actual characters form in the absence of constant exposition (Even Aguilar's romance with a fellow Assassin, played by Ariane Labed, is only established about midway through the story in the past).
It's astounding how the movie completely misses the appeal of the games. It's confounding how devoted Assassin's Creed is to the material within those games that is of secondary—or less—interest.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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