Why do video games make terrible movies? Simple: a video game can function without a plot. Almost every single game in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series has had a plot that is, at best, functional and, at worst, confusing, convoluted, and downright dreadful. But the engagement lies in assuming the empowering perspective of a nimble contract killer, who’s given the freedom and a sharp set of tools to explore Crusade-era Jerusalem, or Renaissance-era Venice. There was a modern-day framing device where a clueless dork was plugged into a machine – called the Animus – and asked to relive the memories of his ancestor. Yet this only existed to give the game structure, to justify a time-jumping series hook. A film wouldn’t actually take this seriously. Right?
With the talent involved, Assassin’s Creed could have been the first good video game adaptation. Justin Curzel, Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard – these were the guys who made Macbeth, remember? That Assassin’s Creed stinks is hardly a shock, considering the year we’ve had, where most studio films only had enough good material to cover a trailer and little else. But it is a surprise just how bad some of the movie is. It begins by setting up its Assassins versus Templars plot, with some nonsense about how the “Apple of Eden” (which has surely gone mouldy by now) contains the secret to mankind’s free will. Whatever that actually means, there’s an initial promise of fun when Curzel shoots a flying eagle like a fighter jet – with sound effects and everything – to a hammering rock score.
This lasts for 15 seconds. The next hour – the next HOUR – sees Fassbender’s brooding Cal entrapped in a sterile facility, run by gaunt Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter, Sofia (Cotillard). These fine actors, two of them Oscar-winning, attempt to bring gravitas to the dialogue, mostly by whispering it while frowning. It doesn’t work: not only because the writing would make Dan Brown wince, but because they’re overpowered by an incessant score and distracting arthouse flourishes by Kurzel, which are furiously edited into dizzying incoherence.
And yet, this approach rather suits the all-too-brief detours into the past, where Fassbender assumes the role of an ancestor in 15th-century Spain. True, the brown pallet makes it look like the place has been sprinkled with a fine layer of fecal matter, but the action set-pieces are often well-choreographed, urgent and effective. This misery fest will no doubt be a blot on the careers of all involved, but there are moments where there are glimmers of potential amid a sea of turgid studio product.
Assassin’s Creed is released nationwide on 1st January 2017.
Watch the trailer for Assassin’s Creed here: