director: Justin Kurzel
writers: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper & Bill Collage
starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons
genre: Action | Adventure | Fantasy
released: 21 December 2016 (USA), 27 December 2016 (Germany), 1 January 2017 (Australia), 5 January 2017 (Greece)
based on the Video Game Series: 'Assassin's Creed' by Ubisoft
Each video game adaptation that is released to the big screen is shooting for the stars and afraid at the same time that they are going to lose a fortune in the process. What sets this particular adaptation apart from the rest is that it has elements rooted deep in history, culture and politics rather focusing on the tried and true formulas of zombies, orcs and Italian plumbers. And while not everything may translate perfectly on screen, it is still a higher quality production from your run of the mill Hollywood schlock.
Behind the scenes of humanity's history, a war between two groups the Templars and the Assassins has been ongoing and never-ending. Both sides fight to control the mystical relic called the 'Apple of Eden' and try to influence the world towards one of their set ideologies, one of total control and the other of fluid anarchy.
When the private corporation Abstergo finds the perfect subject in Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) to conduct scientific research. They will tap into his genetic memory through a machine called the 'Animus' to find the location of the Apple with Cal along the way finding out his own ancestral history and purpose in life.
First and foremost, this film should be critiqued as film and second as a video game adaptation. As a film of its own, it does a fine job of providing enough exposition possible for audiences to have a faint idea of what is going on with changing timelines, pseudo science and a battle of secret rivals involving many of history's most known figures. It's action is varied and entertaining, but possibly the best thing about it is the amount of artistry and craft put into the look and feel of 1492 Spain. With sets, costumes and cinematography that are all praise worthy and something that other action films should take note of.
This unexpected amount of detail in the look of the film has to be attributed to not only the director Justin Kurzel, who most will know from his last film 'Macbeth'. There he wowed audiences with his outstanding vision of Shakespeare's tragedy and again now due to the freedom given by the video game company Ubisoft. Who even in their games go the extra mile to sell the period and history of their stories to the greatest detail.
With Kurzel is again his brother who is the composer of the film and shines with his music as he also did with 'Macbeth'. Bringing a much needed gravitas to the period scenes and also passion and momentum to the story that the film lacked on paper. Unfortunately though they are a couple points in the film where modern day music intrudes the flow and gives out the wrong vibe as if it was a 'XXX' film and not a 'Kingdom of Heaven' rendition. This problem can also be seen from the trailers that were horrendous and sold the film as a cheap thrill entertainment. Showing that someone either didn't know how to sell the film correctly or the production as whole was scared beyond belief that it wouldn't make its money back and by the looks of it won't.
Which leads us the film's handling of its tricky plot. Even when the first game of the same name first came out, many thought the plot was ridiculous and accepted it just because it made for good gameplay and a story to span out several sequels. In a movie format smartly a synopsis was put in the beginning of the film and a good portion of the first act is filled with exposition. The issue isn't so much the story of Templars fighting Assassins and the intricate details of their feud, or even the fantasy elements behind it. It's the access of the past through a magical machine of hocus pocus magic. You just have to take it for what it is and not really ask any questions or the whole film wont work. Personally, this was the same complain I had with the games, as I thought the period stories were material good enough for a plot, gameplay and future film adaptations. Ubisoft on the other hand don't agree with my opinion and have continued on with the Animus gimmick in the games and on film.
In terms of the visualization of this machine and the transportation of the character from the present to the past, they could have done worse. I personally thought the machine was 'Matrix' looking and weird compared to the game's original version which was pretty much the person laying down and being put into a comatose state. Here it's more interactive and makes it look more hokey. Also way too much inter-cutting between the past and the present scenes occurs. Possibly so audiences don't get confused about what they are watching and which character they are following, but it disconnects us too many times from the drama and action on screen. Taking us out of the vivid experience of alternate historical events that are also the best parts of the film.
That is not to say that all the present day scenes are bad, but they are the weakest parts of the film. They are filled with exposition, more amateur fight scenes compared to the past timeline and also Michael Fassbender's character's arc is predictable and lacking some human moments that were few and far between. Such as him laughing and singing a song, questioning the weird behavior of the other inmates, while also the film focusing incredibly briefly about his past as a hoodlum.
Surprisingly, the film is much better than the trailers do it justice and satisfies its goal of being casual entertainment of a video game story to the general masses. It has a higher production quality than your standard action film and has some beautiful scenery and an interesting enough plot that doesn't leave you stranded. It may not have much depth to it sadly, but nowadays the same could also be said about any other Hollywood production (Dr. Strange, Rogue One).