Posted December 21, 2016 by Daniel Hodgson in
Like no other video game adaptation yet. Self-serious, handsomely produced, exceptionally well-acted, and not to mention exciting, the film is a labor of reverence to its source material.
Assassin’s Creed is like no other video game adaptation yet. Self-serious, handsomely produced, exceptionally well-acted, and not to mention exciting, the film is a labor of reverence to its source material. That is not, however, to say it’s without flaws. So the question on everyone’s mind is, is this a good movie?
The film stars Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch, a convict on death row. Just as the lethal injection needle pierces his arm, a mysterious woman appears. Callum blacks out, and wakes up in a research facility far away.
Before he has a chance to catch his breath, Callum is thrust into a high-tech chamber. Here, scientists, lead by Dr. Sofia Rikken (Marion Cotillard), use something called Animus to, in a sense, send Callum back in time, to re-live the memories of his ancestor Aguilar (also played by Fassbender), a 15th century Assassin, to recover the Apple of Eden, a McGuffin device similar to the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The historical sequences in Assassin’s Creed end on cliffhangers, sometimes literally. Thrust backwards and forwards in time, Callum is disoriented, and so are we. “What the @#*$ is going on?” he protests. At times, I wondered the same thing myself. Aguilar’s scenes, which often pick up some time after they left off, are not much more than action set pieces, with little in the way of development of its characters and the relationships between them.
But as such, they are what they need to be, thrilling. Assassin’s Creed is essentially a Parkour-infused art house martial-arts movie, not unlike Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The fight choreography is lethal yet graceful, captured beautifully by cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, who in certain scenes uses chiaroscuro lighting inspired by the Renaissance era of the film’s setting, lending it no small measure of artistic merit.
Strong casting gives Assassin’s Creed gravitas as well; no less than Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling costar as modern-day conspirators, descendants of the Templars, who intend to use the Apple of Eden as a tool of oppression. This is a film to be watched not just for the action, but the performances, especially Fassbender’s. He’s compelling, magnetic. I was especially struck by a present-day scene between himself and Jacob Gleeson. It’s a legitimately good scene, and I would watch the entire thing again for it. You’ll know it when you see it.
Not quite what you would expect, the story is not about good vs. evil. The Templars want hegemonic control, but the Assassins are agents of the free will of Man, who by their creed are unbound by God, law or morality. They’re anarchists. Assassin’s Creed is a text about order vs. chaos, with not good guys and bad guys, but fanatics on both sides willing to kill or die for their cause. Fans expecting a popcorn flick, which of course it is, will find themselves neck-deep in a think-piece with more questions than answers. At the end, what’s the payoff?
Frankly, the ending is weak. There’s a difference between leaving a movie open for a sequel, and leaving matters unresolved. I can understand the studio’s desire to start yet another multi-million dollar franchise, but it’s too early for that. Right now, ticket-buyers expect the worst from movies like this, and so filmmakers should not be thinking about sequels, but the longevity and legitimacy of the genre itself. That a movie based on a video game can have A-list actors, strong performances, and a complete, self-contained story that pays off, is what’s on trial here.
Is Assassin’s Creed a good movie? I found myself leaning towards the screen, absorbing it. Fans of the game will not be disappointed in the film’s many chase sequences and fight scenes. But there’s so much more to it than that. Its merits outweigh its flaws. And it’s better than good. It’s interesting. 4 out of 5 stars.