Length: 115 mins
Writers: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage
Dir.: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brenden Gleeson
Full disclosure – I’m a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed games. I still remember playing the first one way back in 2007 on a friend’s Xbox and being utterly transfixed by it. I’ve played all the instalments since, and though the overall quality of the games varies drastically (recent titles, in particular, have felt a bit stagnant and repetitive), I still hold the series to be one of the most interesting and enjoyable franchises going.
That being said, I have to confess that I was distinctly worried when the live action film was announced. Hollywood has a less than stellar track record with video-game adaptations – in that they have been trying for the past 20 years to make one that isn’t shit – so you can imagine my trepidation when I sat down to watch the movie. Could this be the one? Could this be the movie to finally break the decade’s long curse and do its subject material justice for once? Could this be the best video-game adaptation of all time?
Urm… kind of?
The film follows the continuing misadventures of Callum Lynch, a murderer sentenced to death who is kidnapped by a mysterious organisation known as Abstergo. Using a machine called the Animus, Lynch is pressganged into reliving the genetic memories of his ancestor, Aguilar, a member of an ancient brotherhood of assassins who was kicking about during the Spanish Inquisition. Through using the Animus, Lynch gains the skills of his stab-happy predecessor and slowly learns the truth about the assassins and the shady corporation that is holding him captive.
As far as adaptations go, the movie is fairly faithful to its source material – clearly borrowing heavily from the first game in terms of setting and aesthetic. Visually, the film is quite impressive – the drained colour pallet and Apple-esque glass and steel of the modern-day sections contrast well with the gritty colour of the historical scenes. The production value is top notch, with great costumes and sets – and the emphasis on real locations, stunt work and practical effects is extremely refreshing for a video-game movie, as they tend to rely rather heavily on CGI. The action is well choreographed and exciting, the long mid-film parkour sequence where Aguilar and his companion are running over the rooftops fighting guards as they go is a particular highlight. The mandatory shaky-cam during these sections occasionally gets a bit much, and the fight scenes are shot slightly too close to fully understand what’s going on at times, but they’re still really enjoyable.
Deviations from the game are mostly well-handled and smart – particularly the redesign of the Animus. The first few titles in the series depicted it as a futuristic looking massage chair, which obviously wouldn’t have worked so well on the silver screen. The new Animus takes the form of a gigantic pneumatic arm suspended from the ceiling, allowing Lynch to move freely as he re-enacts the memories in a hazy holographic simulation. It’s a nice touch and infinitely more visually interesting than watching Fassbender lie down for two hours.
There are a few things from the game I wished they’d left out, though. In the aforementioned free-running section the two assassins run on washing lines in an effort to get away from their pursuers and while this kind of works in the games (suspension of disbelief and all that), it looks a bit daft when actual people do it. The series also has an odd obsession with eagles for some inadequately explained reason and the movie is no exception. There are several long and ponderous shots of an eagle soaring over the landscape that go on for way too long and were oddly disorientating. Works in game trailers, guys, not so good for movies.
The performances are all fine, I suppose, but none of the actors really get enough material to sink their teeth into – a shame given that the movie has a surprisingly stellar cast. It actually feels like there are sections missing from the final film as if important character and story elements had been cut out for time… presumably for more shots of eagles doing sod all. This gives the movie an oddly rushed feel – characters feel less developed as a result and a few narrative components lose their impact as a result of not being established properly. This is particularly apparent at the end of the movie, to the point where it feels anti-climactic, and makes the relatively straightforward story feel a bit disconnected.
In short, I like the movie and I think it shows a lot of promise. It’s not perfect – there were some odd choices made with regards to the pacing/editing and I think the story could have been a bit tighter generally, but it’s certainly one of the best game adaptations I’ve seen. There was the potential here for a great franchise and it’s frustrating that the film just misses the mark, especially since a follow-up movie seems increasingly unlikely. See while it may have just come out here, Assassin’s Creed has been playing for a couple of weeks in the US and early box office figures aren’t looking good. Hopefully, it’ll do well enough overseas for the studio to make a sequel, as there is so much more of this story to be told.