As a huge fan of the game series, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted out of an Assassin’s Creed film. So, before going into Assassin’s Creed, I had to clear my mind. After all, Michael Fassbender was never going to be Ezio or Edward Kenway. No, it was known from the start that Justin Kurzel’s take on Ubisoft’s franchise was going to have a story line completely separate from the games the film was based on. Though, the central conflict in the movie is the same as it is in the games; The Templars and Assassins both want an artifact called the “Apple of Eden.” They are locked in a centuries long battle for control of the powerful object.
The film even uses the initiation into the order of Assassins. Fassbender’s Callum Lynch undergoes these rites as his ancestor Aguilar early in the movie. His ring finger is severed and he says the actual Creed of the Assassins: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” While Assassin’s Creed certainly does try to mimic the epic spectacle of it’s interactive counterparts, a myriad of missteps causes this movie to falter. It’s a leap a faith that lands just short of the conveniently placed cart of hay.
Assassins Vs Templars
One of the carry overs from the games is the ongoing battle over the fate of humanity between the Templars and Assassins. As in the game, the Templars, lead by Charlotte Rampling’s cold Ellen Kaye, want the Apple of Eden to force humanity to their knees. The Assassin’s, portrayed here mainly by Michael Fassbender’s Callum “Cal” Lynch, wish to keep the Apple hidden, even if it means their lives.
However, all this is not immediately known to Cal. The only interaction Cal has ever had with Assassins was when one killed his mother, and the Assassin responsible for this act was his father. This happens at the onset of the modern tale in Assassin’s Creed, and is what helps build Cal into a truly conflicted character. His thirst for revenge against his father and the Assassins makes you question what he’ll eventually decide to do when he comes face-to-face with the Templars.
Cal is introduced to the Templars after he is put to the death penalty for Capital Murder. The lethal injection turns out not so deadly after all, and he wakes up in Spain with Marion Cotillard’s Sofia. She works for the Templar run Abstergo Industries, and is the inventor of the “Animus.” The Animus is a device that allows those connected to it to see the lives of their ancestors. With the Animus, Abstergo want to tap into Cal’s memories and find the Apple of Eden. Cal’s ancestor Aguilar just so happens to have been the last Assassin to see the Apple and knows where it is hidden.
As you can see, while the players are all new to the series, the base story line is more or less identical to that of the game series.
The strongest aspect of Assassin’s Creed is without a doubt the cast. Michael Fassbender plays Cal with just the right amount of ambiguity that we never honestly know if he’ll come around to the Assassins or fall victim to the Templars. When Fassbender takes on the role of Aguilar, his ancestor, he is strong and determined. It should also be mentioned that all scenes within the Animus are in Spanish and are subtitled. Fassbender was able to speak the language as if it was native to him, though truthfully he had few lines as Aguilar to mess up.
Marion Cotillard as Sofia was a brilliant choice. She rides a fine line between wanting to see the Animus succeed and caring about the people being connected to it. Like Cal, her past with the Assassins isn’t a pretty one, but she hasn’t let the Templars completely corrupt her. Even though her father, Jeremy Irons’ Alan Rikkin is the CEO of Abstergo, she pretty much runs the Animus project.
Speaking of Jeremy Irons, he is delightfully sinister as Abstergo CEO Alan Rikkin. The Templar Order wants the Apple of Eden, and Abstergo has been working for many years trying to obtain it. With their hands in some pretty deep pockets, the Templars have been funding Abstergo to the tune of billions of dollars per year. The Templars no longer think Abstergo can produce, and with the threat of losing all that money looming, Rikkin is driven to recklessness in order to obtain his prize.
Charlotte Rampling is underutilized as Ellen Kaye. She’s so venomous and calculated, it’s a shame. While she shares the same goal as the Templars overall, her motivations never come through and we’re left guessing who she really is and what she wants. Rampling isn’t the only auxiliary character that needed more time on screen either.
The other Assassins held prisoner at Abstergo Industries are shoved in the background and given no story. When the script deems it’s time to kill some of them off, it’s meant to be a great tragedy, yet it’s anything but. We’ve had no time to figure out who these people are, much less why Abstergo is continuing to keep them around after they’ve proved useless.
The one thing that works extremely well in Assassin’s Creed is the Animus. In the game the device started out as a glorified tanning bed and soon evolved into a pair a futuristic glasses. You’d have to admit that that wouldn’t be very exciting to see on screen. The decision to make the Animus a more physical machine helped to add to the action. It also helped explain the “bleeding effect.”
The bleeding effect is when the person connected to the Animus starts to see images of their past outside of the machine. The effect also allows the user to tap into the physical abilities of their ancestors. This side-effect turns Cal into a deadly Assassin nearly overnight. He is able to achieve perfect synchronization with Aguilar and quickly becomes a force to be reckoned with.
There was an amazing effect tied to the Animus as well. In order for Sofia to see what was happening to Cal as he ran around ancient Spain, the Animus projected bits of the scene in the room. Think the holo-deck from Star Trek. As action was happening in the past, the scene would occasionally cut to the present day and show Cal mimicking Aguilar’s actions on projected roof tops and streets. I actually preferred the Animus in the film over the one in the games.
At times the action was beautifully shot. Often, it felt like seeing scenes from the games. Domed buildings lined the horizon as the sun set and a well choreographed battle was silhouetted against the backdrop. More often than not however the fight scenes were edited with spastic and too frequent cuts, this only served to disrupt the flow of battle. Even during the parkour heavy chases the camera rarely stayed with any one person for more than a few seconds.
Even though iconic weapons like hidden blades, smoke grenades, and throwing knives made appearances, the action never quite felt like that in the game. While Aguilar was proficient with an array of weapons, he never displayed the ferocity or talent of his video game counterparts. Needless to say, the action scenes, while entertaining at times, left a lot to be desired.
In the end, Assassin’s Creed is a fun film. Fans of the games will see a lot of nods to the series even though there are no real direct connections. Those who haven’t played the games may enjoy this movie a bit more, but not by much. The biggest downfall of the movie is that it is entirely set-up for a sequel. No character arcs are resolved, and by the time the credits roll you will be left with far more questions than answers. Even the stellar cast can’t save an incomplete story. I wish they had made a stand alone film with the potential for sequels, and not used this opportunity to only prepare us for the inevitable Assassin’s Creed 2.
Have any of you geeks seen Assassin’s Creed yet? What do you think? If you haven’t watched it yet, are you going to? Let us know what you think/thought about the movie in the comments below!