Review: “Assassin’s Creed”

2 out of 5 stars.

Film adaptations of video games have never had a good track record.  So to say that “Assassin’s Creed” is the best game-to-film adaptation in a long time may not exactly be a compliment.  In placing plot over action, the film takes what is best about the games and turns it into a dire story that is mostly incomprehensible to those who aren’t already familiar with the universe.

“Assassin’s Creed” is directed by Justin Kurzel and stars Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch, a criminal sentenced to be executed for murder.  But Cal wakes up to find himself in a facility run by Abstergo Industries, a modern version of the ancient Templar Order.  The head scientist, Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), reveals to Cal that they are searching for the Apple of Eden, which could rid the world of violence.  Cal is the descendent of the assassin Aguilar, a member of an order that opposed the Templar.  By hooking him up to a machine called Animus, Cal is able to be transported back to the Spanish Inquisition and relive Aguilar’s memories, thereby allowing Abstergo to use him to track down the Apple.  But things are complicated by Sophia’s father and Abstergo CEO Alan Rikken (Jeremy Irons), who actually cares more about getting rid of the assassin’s than he does about ridding the world of violence, as Ellen Kaye (Charlotte Rampling), in charge of funding his projects, is threatening to shut him down due to lack of results.

Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) awaits his execution

While this film is based on the universe of the “Assassin’s Creed” games, it is a new story that follows a new character.  But there are certainly numerous callbacks to the games, and most of the action sequences that take place in the past look just like the gameplay.  It’s often over-the-top, but those scenes are quite engaging.  The problem is, we don’t get enough of those scenes.  The games take place mostly in the past.  This film reverses that, with most of it taking place in the present, which isn’t nearly as interesting.  The story gets bogged down with too many plot points here, as the viewer is assaulted with information about the Apple, the Templar, the assassins, Cal’s past, the nature of Abstergo, Sophia’s work, and whatever is going on with Alan.  It’s a lot to take in, and the film doesn’t do a good job juggling all of it in a way that makes sense; instead of things becoming clearer as more is revealed, they just get murkier.

The cast lends a lot of gravitas to this movie.  Fassbender is good, although his character is more of an anti-hero type, and even the great Brendan Gleeson shows up as his father (with son Brian playing his younger self).  The film is also beautifully shot, from sweeping camera moves over the landscape of 1492 Spain to the more intimate way Kurzel shoots the reveal of Cal’s mother’s murder in the beginning.  The effects are nicely done as well.  But it never all comes together to form a film that would be engaging for all audiences.  There’s no humor, it’s dark, and it takes itself too seriously.  There is a lot here that fans of the games will appreciate, but it isn’t enough to give us hope that we’ll ever get a really, really good film adaptation of a good video game.

Runtime: 115 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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