Assassin’s Creed Review – Stylish Yet Uninspiring
Assassin’s Creed Review – Style Over Substance
The Assassin’s Creed franchise hasn’t been afraid to branch away from video games with certain sub-plots devoted to comics, books and soon an animated series. At the tail end of last year, Ubisoft Motion Pictures teamed up with New Regency to bring us Assassin’s Creed, a film starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons and directed by Justin Kurzel. The story follows Callum Lynch in the modern-day, a disillusioned man who is taken from death row by Abstergo Industries in order for the organisation to track down a powerful artefact called the Apple of Eden via Callum’s assassin ancestor during the Spanish Inquisition, Aguilar. If you’ve played any of the earlier games you’re in familiar territory but unfortunately the film lacks the same level of quality as some of those well-regarded games.
As one of Ubisoft’s biggest franchises, Assassin’s Creed has always had somewhat of a cinematic feel whether it’s the personal arcs that its protagonists journey through or flitting across rooftops in exotic locales. Portraying these aspects of the games would be essential for any film based on the series and for the most part, director Justin Kurzel does a good job. The action is stylish and well choreographed and it’s a cool moment for fans to see Aguilar acrobatically taking down his foes and leaping up buildings in a realistic way. The film respects the lore built up around the series over the years too. It was interesting to see so much time devoted to the modern-day lore, an element recent games have pushed to the side and credit is due for the boldness with which the writers put far-fetched tropes such as the Apple of Eden and the Animus at the centre of the film.
Sadly, this is where the redeeming features of Assassin’s Creed run out of steam. The roughly two-hour long running time is filled with exposition and unnecessary plot which makes the film feel all over the place. Most of the film is spent with Callum rather than Aguilar but he isn’t a particularly likeable character even though Michael Fassbender does his usual best. He’s a tortured character who’s in a dire situation which plays into his personal family problems. Unfortunately, he never feels developed enough and like the audience is just along for the ride as Marion Cotillard’s Sofia explains large chunks of the lore in brief sentences. Given the stylish parkour and fight scenes, Aguilar feels like someone we should be spending more time with as he has more agency even though he’s even more thinly written than Callum Lynch.
The excursions into the Spanish Inquisition just feel like they’re there to move the plot along with no real investment in terms of character or plot. The sweeping shots and smoky footage of Andalusia are a mess of CGI and feel at odds with the very tactile and well-choreographed action scenes. Like the games, the films focus on the mysterious Pieces of Eden – mystical artefacts that can have control over humanity. The film does a very poor job of representing why the Apple of Eden is such a terrible thing though and it’s never actually utilised to show the audience its power, instead coming off as a gaudy trinket for Templars and Assassins to fight over. Like some gamers would say, the time spent in the Animus is more interesting and entertaining than time outside of it but the wider problems of the film engulf any bright sparks.
Assassin’s Creed is a notable video game adaptation for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s rare that a game publisher has as much say over what is done with the material and Ubisoft Motion Pictures played a big role in making this film happen. Secondly, the film managed to attract considerable talent for its main roles and a director with prior experience of directing the lead and making a good job of it. It’s a shame then that such talent was wasted by poor writing and a bad script. The pacing of the film is all over the place as mentioned earlier but Jeremy Irons is wasted as the shadowy Rikkin (who actually is a character from the games) and the whole Templar/Assassin dynamic comes over as corny rather than an epic struggle for humanity’s free will throughout time. You get the sense that Sofia is supposed to be more of an intriguing character than she is, swaying between not causing Callum harm and doing what she believes is the right thing but she still gives off a sense of a statue watching the film’s lengthy scenes of exposition pass by.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed isn’t the landmark video game adaptation that some had hoped it might be. Although it features strong actors and stylish action, the film fails to sink its hooks into the audience due to awful pacing, an ill-conceived plot and characters that just aren’t interesting.