It's Action Over Character In 'Assassin's Creed'
By Devvon Eubanks
Video game to movie adaptations are always tricky. Before the film even hits the theater, there are several uphill battles that directors and studios must fight. First, there are a lot of expectations from viewers who are already fans. These people want to be instantly immersed in the game's story and background, and hope that everything will be reflected accurately and faithfully. But these films also have to appeal to newcomers who probably don’t know anything about the franchise's established mythology. So when “Assassin’s Creed,” one of the most popular flagship titles from game developer Ubisoft, was set to get the silver screen treatment with Justin Kurzel of “Macbeth” directing, and Michael Fassbender as the lead, fans went insane. But does the movie fail to invoke the spirit of its source material like so many other adaptations, or does it finally break the curse of the gaming film flop?
We begin in 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition. Aguilar de Nerha is being inducted into the Brotherhood of Assassins, a secret order that has opposed the Knights of Templar for centuries, where he is tasked with rescuing the Prince of Granada from this group. Fast forward to 2016 and we come to a similar-looking gentleman named Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), who is on death row for murder. After a faked execution, Lynch wakes up dazed, confused, and in a new facility of the Abstergo Foundation in Spain. Guided by head scientist Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), Lynch learns that he was rescued for the purpose of finding a long-lost artifact called the “Apple of Eden,” which reportedly contains the genetic code for human free will. Upon its possession, the foundation will eradicate widespread violence in the world and ultimately bring peace. Being the direct descendant of Aguilar de Nerha, Lynch has to use the mechanical “Animus” to take a mental trip back in time to the Inquisition and follow his ancestor’s steps to locate the artifact in the present day.
For starters, the overall activity of the film is well done. The Spain setting is very well represented, and is an accurate foil to the original game. The characters and environments during the Animus sequences feel vibrant and authentic, and the viewer is easily immersed. Furthermore, the action and fast pace of the fighting is also very well done and extremely fast, but some parts can be so fast that viewers may lose track of what is happening. But the feel of the action with its movement, parkour, gymnastic ability, and quick pacing is extremely fluid and the best aspect of the entire film. But while the action inside the Animus is amazing, the rest of the film is not that interesting, mainly because the plot is parallel to the story of the original game, with just a few noticeable differences with character names, the inclusion of a large facility, minor twists, and how the Animus operates (which is a lot cooler, in my view). The plot revolving around the “Apple of Eden” is particularly strange, especially in terms of what it does and how it's found. Plus, many of these details and concepts related to the game will confuse newcomers and distract them somewhat from the action sequences. In fact, new viewers would get more out of the game than this film as the plot is superior, easier to digest, and the characters are given more depth, especially protagonist Desmond Miles.
Speaking of characters, the casting for this film was quite substandard. Not because the main actors aren't amazing, but simply because they don’t have much to them. Many (if not all) are one-dimensional and not memorable. Michael Fassbender does a decent job and provides average dialogue and simulated acrobatics. Marion Cotillard is also decent as the doctor who looks at Lynch as if he is her creation. Both actors interact well and bring the most character to the film outside of the events that happen in the Animus. However, the movie's biggest travesty is the inclusion of Jeremy Irons as the Sophia’s father and Abstergo’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rikkin. Irons is an amazing actor who's been in numerous films, notably as Simon Gruber in 1995’s “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” and he is extremely underutilized and given a dry role with not much screen time. No interesting character twists, no amazingly scripted fight sequence or action with him at the helm of this organization. Irons is just a simple leader of an organization working in the shadows to ensure the safety of humanity. Finally, the supporting cast outside of these main three add a bit more variety, but none of them are really noteworthy or special. Generally, everyone follows simple conventions and Kurzel plays it safe.
Overall, “Assassin’s Creed” is a simple adaptation that doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. The action sequences and settings within the Animus feel like missions straight out of the game and are very intense, quick, and visceral. However, in the real world of the story, everything is just simple, standard, and a direct reflection of the source material without anything to really make it unique or stand out. Compared to other films, “Creed” does do the source material justice without offending viewers or upsetting fans, but I just wish that the ride was more fulfilling. Two additional films are planned, so hopefully these assassins will be much more deadly in the next release.