A leap of faith with a hard landing.
In 2003, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2003) director Patrice Desilets was instructed by well known game publisher Ubisoft to begin working on another addition to the long running Prince of Persia series. Over a period of time it evolved into a spin off, which eventually lead to the idea of dropping the signature character of The Prince. Four years later, Ubisoft Montreal developed a new IP, Assassin’s Creed (2007). The game received positive reviews, most of which praised the free running mechanics, and after two years of development they released a sequel, Assassin’s Creed II (2009). Receiving critical acclaim, Ubisoft continued to release two other sequels that continued the story of Assassin’s Creed II’s protagonist Ezio Auditore. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010), Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011) both received positive reviews, all which praised the polished combat and free running mechanics. Ubisoft later developed 8 other sequels over the course of 5 years.
What made the games so unique was the setting and story. The goal of the games was to put the player in a setting not seen in other open world titles, such as the Golden Age of Piracy in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag (2013) and most recently the Russian Revolution in Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia (2016). Each story was unique and intriguing which made the games joy to play through. There was also often a part of the games that revolved around a famous historical figure such as George Washington and varying other founding fathers during the American Revolution in Assassin’s Creed III (2012), and Leonardo Da Vinci in both Assassin’s Creed II (2009) and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010). Considering the intricate stories and varying historical locations and time periods, the game series was bound to become a film.
Fans hoped that the film would be great and that it would finally be a good game-to-film adaptation. Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed (2016) fell flat on its face despite the leap of faith it made.
What often made the Assassin’s Creed games were the plots and settings. Ubisoft announced that the story of the film would be different from the games, so this led to fans have some speculation on how the project would go. This announcement made the project completely ambiguous, as the public had no idea what road the project would go on. After the initial release, it would’ve been much better if they had stuck with the plot of the original game. In fact, it doesn’t make much sense as to why they got rid of the original plot and characters because they’re too similar.
The story follows Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a convict who saw his father kill his mother at a young age. His father, like his mother, were members of the Assassins, a brotherhood that has been secretly at war with the Knights Templar for centuries. Callum is due to be executed for killing a pimp that was trying to mug him. After his “execution,” he wakes up in a research facility owned by a company called Abstergo. Callum is convinced by head scientist and creator of the Animus Project, Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) to continue to relive the genetic memories of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha. In order to do this, Callum enters the Animus, a device that allows the user to relive the memories of his or her ancestor. Callum is tasked with finding the Apple of Eden, a “gift” from “those who came before” that allows the user to take control of free will. Michael Fassbender also plays Callum’s ancestor Aguilar, a 15th century Spanish assassin that lived during the Spanish Inquisition. Meanwhile, Abstergo CEO Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) is pressed for time as he is in a desperate search for the Apple.
It sounds interesting, but if you take a look at the games and their plots, it shows how shallow, predictable, cliche the story of the film is. Even taking into account by Ubisoft that this is plot is meant to be original, the plot still has very little memorable sequences. Callum is a flat character with little to no character development. There are two sides of Callum, the side that we see the most often is the angry, stubborn side of him. There is one scene where Callum does the whole “I’m going crazy” trope that eventually leads to cringe worthy dialogue. Other than that one specific scene, he pretty much remains the same, a stubborn, uncharismatic, dull character that is forgettable. It is unfortunate that Aguilar has very little screentime, as in the games the modern day setting was not a priority, the games revolved around the past, not the present. It’s also a shame, that Aguilar has no character development at all. The only reason he is likable, is because you are constantly hoping that the film shows more of his character, that he does all these cool stunts and that there will be more. Unfortunately, by the time his character is finally getting interesting, the film ends.
The movie is around 1 hour and 55 minutes, there is at least 30 minutes of screentime for Aguilar. It then bounces back to the present, the least interesting part of the film. The story revolves around Sophia Rikkin’s pursuit of the “end of violence”, in which she believes that the Apple of Eden will help rid of. It’s a shame that Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons were given so little to work with. Their characters are forgettable and the chemistry between father and daughter is as cliche as it gets.
The characters attempt to explain what the whole story is about, they even attempt to give a 30 second history lesson about the past setting, the Spanish Inquisition. But if you are not paying attention, you will have no idea what is going on.
Ubisoft stated that this was meant to be a completely original story separate from the games, that the setting, characters, and extensive mythology was meant to add on to the Assassin’s Creed universe. The film is 1 hour, and 55 minutes, and I can recall only two memorable sequences. One being when Callum first enters the Animus, as he begins to see the Inquisition take place, the camera follows an eagle one of the signature icons of the franchise, as it follows the eagle it shows a battle being fought with a fantastic orchestral score behind it. Almost an hour later, we get to see Aguilar’s escape from being burned at the cross, the chase sequence that followed was amazing to see and the stuntman should be commended for their work. Other than that, you will find little to nothing great here.
In the past segments, Aguilar has a close bond with a fellow assassin, Maria (Ariane Labed). I can only recall one scene that showed how great her character was. That scene appeared in the trailer, other than that the character of Maria is forgettable. In fact, during her death scene, I completely forgot who she was. This happens throughout the film, you’ll be almost constantly asking yourself, “who is that?” when they appear.
Combat in the Assassin’s Creed games was almost always cinematic and brutal. Each hit, cut, or stab sounded and looked like it hurt. I can’t say the same for the film, for the first mistake the film made, was being PG-13. It is possible to make a brutal, violent film with a PG-13 rating, in Assassin’s Creed (2016) this is not the case. Macbeth (2015) director Justin Kurzel makes the same mistake again in this film. Macbeth (2015) looked like a great film, when it was released, many often thought it was disappointing. I myself thought the story, acting, and dialogue was excellent. The action on the other hand, was not nearly as good. It often felt that the main protagonist was hitting everyone with a dull sword, it is the exact same thing here. Each fight, revolves around shaky cam, and so many close ups it’s hard to tell what is even happening. For example, there is a chase sequence that involves Aguilar chasing down a captured prince that is being taken away by carriage. He then fights a man named Yusuf (Matias Varela) while on top of one of the carriages. I wish I could tell you more, but I couldn’t see anything happen because half the screen was either covered by Yusuf’s, or Aguilar’s shoulder. Nothing “packs a punch” which makes almost every flight scene, feel heavily scripted. By the way, I had to research who Yusuf even was, I could not figure out his name throughout the majority of the film.
One of the most iconic parts of the Assassin’s Creed games, is the “leap of faith”, where the protagonist jumps from a significant height and lands stylistically. As I was watching, I was just waiting for this to appear, finally when it did, as Aguilar was falling the film jumps straight back to the present to Callum right in the middle of the jump, completely killing any tension. The excuse that the antagonists make is that Callum cannot stay for long in the animus or he will suffer the “bleeding effect”. Okay, seems legit, until you realize that the modern day protagonist of the games Desmond Miles didn’t severely suffer this until the fourth game Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011). Other than that, he gained the ability of “eagle vision”, a form of sight that enabled Desmond to see things others would not be able to, that is completely gone within the film. Almost everything that made the games so interesting, is gone.
It is disappointing to say the least, but there are some things worth seeing here. The cinematography is excellent, the whole film in general look amazing. They captured the look of Assassin’s Creed perfectly. The musical score is excellent and can get your blood pumping sometimes, that also applies to the chase sequences. Aguilar’s escape from execution is one of the most memorable chase sequences since Inception (2010) and the stunt work is highly commendable. Fans will be highly disappointed in what could’ve been, others who have never seen or heard of Assassin’s Creed can enjoy this film. But even if that, the film has too many plot holes, little to no character development, an unnecessary amount of cliches, and a severe lack of screentime for the character of Aguilar.
- Excellent cinematography, captures the look of the games perfectly.
- Stunt work is highly commendable, Aguilar’s escape from execution is one of the best chase sequences in recent years.
- The newly designed Animus makes logical sense as to how the user is able to learn the abilities of his ancestor, in the games, the Animus was just a chair or table, but in the film it is a mechanical arm that allows Callum to actually re enact his ancestors actions. This is a welcomed addition to the Assassin’s Creed mythology.
- The setting of the Spanish Inquisition is something that has not been recently touched and cinema, and it is unique in it’s own right.
- The 15th Century Spanish Assassin’s speak Spanish, rather than English. Unlike the games where the characters would almost always speak in English, Assassin’s Creed (2016) adds a layer or realism to the story and mythology by actual having the characters in the past speak their native language.
- There is a severe lack of proper character development, Callum Lynch is flat and way to shallow of a character, and it is disappointing because Callum is a newly introduced character, and considering Michael Fassbender’s Oscar nomination for Steve Jobs (2015), it is a shame he is not given a more in depth character. In the end he is forgettable.
- Oscar winners Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons are also not given enough material to truly have a stand out performance. The chemistry between the two is often cliche and unoriginal. Which is unfortunate considering that Jeremy Irons has played a great antagonist many times times over in films like Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995) and Appaloosa (2008). Marion Cotillard has no standout scene, which is a true shame considering that both Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard weren’t able to truly flesh out their characters.
- Fight scenes don’t “pack a punch” and feel heavily scripted. Throughout the film, every time Aguilar would go in for the kill or make a move, it will cut back to Callum hitting a projection the Animus created in the form of colorful mist that creates a “past setting” for the members of Abstergo to see as well. So to sum it up, every time Aguilar will make a move, it will cut back to Callum hitting mist. It can get extremely annoying, because the film jumps back and forth over and over again which gets very repetitive.
- Aguilar has very little screen time, in most scenes he is often completely silent.
- Most characters are literally forgettable, there was more than two occasions where I completely forgot who a certain character was.
- You are expected to know everything about the Spanish Inquisition in less than 30 seconds, the story does not properly explain what the Inquisition was precisely which leads to confusion.
- Shaky cam also lies within the film, and it some fight sequences it is extremely difficult to tell what is even happening.
- An extreme lack of screentime for the past setting of the Spanish Inquisition, Assassin’s Creed (2016) takes way too much time in the modern day setting.
- Brendan Gleeson makes an appearance but has only once scene with dialogue. Considering his background it stand out roles such as Menelaus in Troy (2004) and Hamish in Braveheart (1995). His performance almost completely wasted.
- The whole movie, sequel baits the next addition in the Assassin’s Creed film series.
- The PG-13 is unnecessary, and it heavily affects the action throughout the film. Assassin’s Creed (2016) one of those films that should’ve been rated R.
Assassin’s Creed (2016) is highly disappointing considering all the hype that followed after the release of the first official trailer. Many often hoped that this film would be a stand out game-to-film adaptation, unfortunately it is not. Flat and forgettable characters, a lack of screentime for the past setting, wasted performances, and poor action sequences make Assassin’s Creed (2016) a wasted opportunity to tell a great story in such a unique and expansive mythology.
Final Score: 5/10
Based on Assassin’s Creed by:
Michael K. Williams
New Regency Pictures
Ubisoft Motion Pictures
The Kennedy/Marshall Company
20th Century Fox
December 21th, 2016
115 Minutes (1 hour, and 55 minutes)