It’s never a good sign when the audience starts laughing during “serious” moments in a film. Then again, Assassin’s Creed is so po-faced and dour the whole time, who can blame them? Let’s be clear: Assassin’s Creed is awful; probably the worst game-to-film adaptation in years – a disappointment on every production level, which says a lot when your expectations are already sub-Warcraft.
Before we stick the boot in, let’s talk about how we got here. Michael Fassbender produces and stars opposite Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, under the direction of Justin Kurzel. The two leads are reunited after their roles in Kurzel’s mostly effective Macbeth adaptation – which, like Kurzel’s Snowtown before it, demonstrates the trio’s abilities.
Unfortunately, something – something – has gone horribly awry along the way to cinema screens.
Assassin’s Creed, based on the noteworthy Ubisoft game franchise, attempts to tell the story of a convict on death row, redeemed to aid a large corporation, Abstergo, in traveling back through time through accessing “DNA memories”. To what end? Enter the classic deus ex machina – an object that has the power to dominate human will. Why? Er, because. Next question.
What ensues is the coolest set-up and worst bait-and-switch in recent cinematic history; all of this cool tech build-up, sending Fassbender’s sullen character back to the 1400s to take on the oppressive Templar Order. Then the film spends an inordinate amount of time in modern day, wrapped up in boring, slow psychobabble and contrived action sequences.
This is sad because Assassin’s Creed almost works when we’re hurtling back in time and scurrying across rooftops and swan diving. But then, at some point along the way, the aesthetic the team settled on was “dustbowl dirt storm” and now you can’t see a damned thing. Everything is murky and brown and indistinguishable – perhaps to hide the artifice of the effects, perhaps just poor direction. Either way, these eagle-vision flyovers and rooftop chases are like peering through an unwashed car windshield.
Just as we’re getting under the hood as it were, we’re suddenly flashing back to present day, with Fassbender strapped into a gigantic claw-arm contraption like an action figure in a skill tester. He flips an flails and fights against nothing. It all looks kind of silly. Later, when he’s back in his pseudo-dorm, he has flashbacks – and again ends up fistfighting ghostly nobodies – resulting in some derisive giggling from the peanut gallery.
See, it just doesn’t come together coherently. Assassin’s Creed is not plausible enough to be serious – and never clever enough to be smartly written. The story is downright ludicrous, leaving gaping, moth-chewed holes in the plot at every turn. This is compounded by a script that, frankly, I feel bad that the actors had to deliver.
They do try; the acting pedigree is there—Cotillard and Irons in particular are capable of so much more – Fassbender too – but all three just look perpetually bored. Delivery is flat, heart rates are steady and the yawns behind the camera are almost audible.
If nothing else, Assassin’s Creed is at least consistent throughout: awful, flat, tone-deaf and poorly structured. It’s biggest sin? It has a rich universe to play with, thanks to a catalogue of mostly solid games to draw on – littered with time travel, world history, politics and uprisings through the eyes of a street-level participant.
And yet, we’re to believe that this is the best script they could come up with – a story that spends most of its time faffing around in the present day, lost in incomprehensible dialogue and narrative devices. A waste of time, money, effort and talent – and yet another reminder that games and film are two very distinct mediums that rarely should or do coalesce.