Hollywood has been trying to crack the code on video game movies for more than two decades now and still, we have yet to get a truly great film out of the deal. With the release of Assassin’s Creed this week, that isn’t going to change. Instead, we are left with a painfully average, if not below-average, empty action/sci-fi movie.
20th Century Fox brings us Assassin’s Creed, which largely stays true to much of the story in the video game, at least elementally, but doesn’t adapt the game directly. The movie follows a criminal named Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), who is pulled into a strange, privately funded program against his will that allows a person to explore and relive the memories of their ancestors. In Callum’s case, he just so happens to be the descendant of a master assassin named Aguilar, who is the member of an ancient society at war with the Templars. The modern world and the Spanish Inquisition collide as Callum discovers his true lineage.
Fans of the video game franchise have been thirsty for a big screen adaptation of Assassin’s Creed for quite some time and there are a lot of elements from the game that are brought into this movie faithfully. They just aren’t the elements that make for a good movie. Sure, those wrist blades are cool, but cool isn’t enough. Assassin’s Creed seems like exactly the type of video game that should lend itself to a great movie, because there is a unique and cool story to tell there. For whatever reason, it really doesn’t translate to a great movie, at least in this particular iteration. It winds up being a very average and hollow, straightforward, violent adventure. Well, maybe not adventure. That implies a certain level of entertainment that this movie never achieves.
When this movie was announced, the fact that Michael Fassbender, who is easily one of the finest actors working in Hollywood today, was going to be playing the lead, it was hard not to perk up our eyebrows a little bit. Add in the talent of someone like Jeremy Irons and sprinkle in Marion Cotillard and suddenly, there was a lot of hope Assassin’s Creed could finally be the great video game movie we all want. 20th Century Fox was the studio that helped crack the comic book movie code with X-Men, what’s to say they couldn’t be the ones to do the same for video game movies? There was hope. Was. That hope is gone now, at least for this franchise.
Let me be clear. The talented actors in this movie do their best to be good in the movie they are acting in, but they can’t save this thing from being uninteresting. Maybe a decade or so ago a movie like this would have gotten by on visual spectacle alone, but in recent years moviegoers have been treated to a lot of great spectacle movies that also have a lot of heart, well-developed characters and more importantly, characters we care about. Even Deadpool, an R-rated movie about a mercenary who is primarily known for being violent and crass, wound up having a true emotional arc and characters that the audience could really connect with. Assassin’s Creed doesn’t have a single character with caring about. Not one bit.
A movie like Assassin’s Creed has some very big, very strange concepts it needs to get audiences to buy into successfully in order to work. Much like comic book movies, it has some very inaccurate “movie science” that needs to be believable, at least within the context of the movie, in order to work. Assassin’s Creed does not succeed in that respect. Something just feels wrong about the bizarre sci-fi “the future is now” science that exists and drives this movie. We believe that Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man after getting bitten by a radioactive spider, even though it is pure nonsense. I don’t know that anyone will really look at the science offered up in this movie and think “Yes. I could see that. Sure”
To that point, this movie doesn’t answer any of the interesting questions it presents. There is stuff in Assassin’s Creed that frustratingly makes the viewer think there is a great movie and a great idea in there somewhere. It just never gets there. Instead, this thing is so linear that it never generates any real tension or interest. The action scenes, which are well executed and technically great, don’t really do the trick because it isn’t anchored to anything worth caring about. They just move things along.
Video games tend to tell great stories and are extremely popular and entertaining, that is why some many people love them. Assassin’s Creed is a shining example of this, at least according to the many people who have played and enjoyed the games. That said, the moviegoing public shouldn’t have to play the games to enjoy the movie. Much in the same way that people shouldn’t have to read comic books in order to enjoy something like The Avengers. So why don’t video game movies work? Maybe because when playing a video game, the player is more connected to it because they are the story to some degree. They are driving the story. They are controlling the character. A natural connection is created that way. That isn’t possible in a movie. That emotion and that character development have to exist on screen. It isn’t an interactive medium. Studios and filmmakers need to find a way to navigate that complication and this movie really failed at that in a big, bad way.
Justin Kurzel is a good director, but this movie does not wind up as a good showcase of his talents. Quite the opposite in fact. On paper, after his recent version of Macbeth, he seemed like the kind of guy who could do this and do it right. Maybe the studio got too involved? Maybe there were too many moving pieces? It is hard to know where it went wrong, but it went wrong. Sure, some people will watch this movie and find some entertainment in the action. Some fans of the video game franchise may find it amusing to see some things they loved from the game brought to life. But the masses that should enjoy something like Assassin’s Creed as a movie alone aren’t going to get what it feels like they should be able to out of it. Sadly, we are still going to have to wait for that great video game movie. Uncharted? Halo? Who knows, but it isn’t Assassin’s Creed. Not by a long shot.