Verdict: If you are a real action aficionado, then this movie has about 10 minutes that might be worth it for you to see. Otherwise, just go play the game, or head to Youtube and watch the cutscenes or something.
Synopsis: “In this feature-film adaptation of the hugely popular video-game series, death-row convict Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) relives his ancestor’s memories as an assassin in 15th century Spain. From this out-of-body experience, Lynch gains the training he needs to battle a conspiracy in the present day.”
The Good: Fassbender is his normal self, and there’s like two shots interesting shots one time.
Michael Fassbender really does seem to be Hollywood’s go-to guy now. He’s been in huge blockbusters like X-Men and the new Alien franchise. He’s been in dramas, like 12 Years a Slave and Steve Jobs. And he’s been in some really weird films, like Frank. No matter the movie, Fassbender plays his part with a deep conviction like every role could be his Oscar winner. Assassin’s Creed is no exception, with Fassbender able to take what is barely a role and somehow still do it well.
In the scenes set in the past, there is some really interesting cinematography for about 10 minutes. There’s also an interesting use of light in the first half hour that really feeds well into the thematic elements of the characters.
The Bad: The aesthetic, the pacing, the plot, the script, and the utter devotion to taking itself too seriously
There are movies that are laughably bad, such that you really get something out of the masochist act of watching it all over again. For me, that’s movies like War of the Worlds, 2012, and Snakes on a Plane. Assassin’s Creed is not one of those movies.
It isn’t a laughably bad movie. It’s also not completely un-rewatchable like Bad Santa 2. It’s just utterly bland, a slogfest of boring, punctuated by glimmers of what could be a good movie. Even finding the real problem is difficult, because it feels like we’re missing a lot of the movie. I’d be willing to bet that the editing floor is absolutely covered in discarded scenes.
Its biggest crime is that it’s bland. Assassin’s Creed was a really interesting game franchise (at least for a while), exploring Bourne-like conspiracies set against National Treasure-esque history shenanigans. The real meat of the games was always the history part, getting to run around Crusades-era Acre, Renaissance Italy, and Revolution-era Boston in cool looking coats, doing parkour and jumping off huge buildings into little piles of hay. So the choice of the movie to spend what couldn’t be more than a half hour in the actual history is confounding.
Instead, the film is mostly spent in the fluorescent-lighted, bleached white halls of Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Iron’s Abstergo company, constantly following Fassbender around as he, and the audience, are bombarded with exposition and utterly boring dialogue. When we do see the history components, it’s covered in smoke for some reason? Like literally all the time, there is smoke. It makes what should have been the most interesting component rather ugly. The most interesting part of the whole thing is Fassbender’s partner assassin, who is so forgotten that I can’t tell you her name.
As far as the actual plot, Fassbender’s character put it best: “What the f*** is going on?” I’ve played most of the games, and I still cannot explain to you with confidence what the plot of this movie is. The broad strokes are clear: Irons and Cotillard want Fassbender to dive into his memories to find out where his ancestor hid a powerful artifact. Got it. Sounds good. But it all falls apart when the movie tries to explain literally everything about how Fassbender is going back in time, the effects on him, and what the artifact does. The explanations are all so ridiculous that I laughed out loud in the theater. The film goes as far as to visually explain what’s happening every time Fassbender is in the Animus (the memory machine), further pulling you out of the action.
All in all, the best explanation might be that the movie takes itself too seriously. It treats it’s utterly ridiculous premise (because let’s be honest, the concept is ridiculous) as a deep, thematic, and dramatic, rather than as a way to see some really cool action and have some fun for two hours. Had there been an actual philosophical commentary or thematic payoff, then maybe it would’ve been passable. As it is, there is no commentary or larger point, and it refuses to have fun in its stead.
The Ugly: Actually a fairly representative cast that emphasizes equality between its men and women characters
Strangely enough, Assassin’s Creed actually does a pretty fine job of having a representative cast. The women in the film are shown as equals to their men counterparts. Cotillard has to be in it as much as Fassbender is, and Maria (the name of the other assassin! I just learned this) is in lockstep through all the action. There is a great mix of actors of color and women, both in supporting and tertiary roles. I just wish we could’ve gotten to know some of these characters more, particularly Michael Kenneth Williams’ (Boardwalk Empire) Moussa. Why do you cast Williams and then barely put him in it? The world may never know.