Look at that header photo for a moment. Take your time. Absorb all that you see there. Michael Fassbender, in the garb of a 15th century Assassin (one of an ancient band of warriors dedicated to uprooting evil through violent, if necessary means), joined by French actress Ariane Labed, another Assassin. They are poised on the verge of action in Spanish Inquisition-era Spain, where they will run, fight, jump and murder their way through legions of Templar soldiers. Pretty cool, eh?
Unfortunately, that’s not all there is to the film. The premise of Assassin’s Creed, like that of the series of video games on which it is based, is that there has been a centuries-old war between the tyrannical Templars and the renegade Assassins, up to this day, and through a marvel of technology called the Animus, certain people are able to access their genetic memories of this struggle. Of particular import is finding an item called the Apple of Eden that was lost hundreds of years ago, which is the key to their struggle. The Templars want to find it and use it to subjugate mankind. The Assassins want to find it to keep it away from them. It sounds fairly fascinating, but anyone who’s played any of the games will tell you that the parts that take place in the past are supremely fun (some entries are more flawed than others), while the sections that take place in the present are usually dull, monotonous exposition dumps. The parts in the past are exciting, breathless affairs full of humor and derring-do, where you undertake dangerous missions and climb buildings and learn new skills and meet famous historical figures, all while running about in painstakingly recreated historical versions of famous cities. The parts in the present are monochromatic, boring clumsily rendered opportunities for them to tell you the, story instead of letting you become a part of it.
The film stars Michael Fassbender as Cal, an unwitting descendant of the Assassin line who gets mixed up in a plot that puts him into the clutches of a company called Abstergo, run by Jeremy Irons and his daughter Sophie (Marion Cotillard). They goad Cal into entering the Animus and accessing the genetic memories of one of his ancestors during the Spanish Inquisition in an effort to locate the Apple of Eden. Much like the games, the parts that take place in the past are fast-paced, exciting affairs, gorgeously shot and brilliantly choreographed. Both Fassbender and Labed display remarkable physicality, bringing a brutal efficiency and grace to their intense fight and free-running scenes. And also much like the games, the scenes in the present are dreadfully boring. Worse, actually, because they’re loaded with pretentious gobbledygook, whispered intonations meant to make us watch in awe and gasp at each revelation. Except that it’s bullshit. It’s drab, half-baked nonsense filled with easily telegraphed plot twists and laboriously and unnecessarily knotted story. Nothing feels organic or natural, but rather like the film is trying to force its seriousness and import down your throat.
What’s worse is that the present day parts make up the majority of the film. The parts of Cal entering the consciousness of his past-day ancestor, Aguilar, make up about 40 minutes (that’s a generous estimate) of the films hideously overlong 150 minutes. That means we’re subjected to 110 minutes filmed exclusively in blue and white of Cotillard (who is utterly wasted) speaking in whispers while on the verge of tears, of Jeremy Irons doing his best impression of his worst performances, and of wasted castings of the likes of Brendan Gleeson and Michael K. Williams, who deliver lines that literally make no sense. To make matters worse, the scenes that take place in the past are pure action, with almost no dialogue or plot development. As such, the film is ripped into two flawed sections — exciting action in the past with no story, and heinously overwrought and poorly scripted story in the present with no action (save for a moderately entertaining final battle).
Video game adaptations have always been a losing proposition with a couple minor exceptions. Assassin’s Creed does nothing to break that streak. And while it’s certainly not Uwe Boll, Alone In The Dark bad, in some ways it’s far more disappointing. I mean, we expect a stupid pile of burning innards from Chistian Slater and Tara Reid. But from this cast? With an acclaimed director (Justin Kurzel) and Fassbender producing? It’s a mystery how the film ends up as awful and drab as it is. Yet here we are, with another ambitious failure, mainly due to people failing to understand — as is so often the case — what makes the game franchise great. The franchise is great because it’s smart, exciting, historical escapism. It’s becoming a hero in the past, meeting the likes of Da Vinci and Blackbeard the Pirate, leaping from rooftop to rooftop while learning the secrets to ancient mysteries. It’s not endless expositions taking place in a blue and white hospital (seriously, guys, there’s a whole rainbow of colors out there. Use them). It’s in the very words of the Creed itself — “Everything Is Permitted.”
Except, in the case of this movie, anything remotely fun.