If you’ve played any of the Assassin’s Creed games, you probably looked at the Assassin’s Creed film trailers with mixed interest and skepticism, as I did. Interest, because there’s opportunity for stunning bird’s eye view visuals and for great action sequences with a lot of parkour. And skepticism because well, not many video games have worked out particularly well – lest we forget Street Fighter.
I went into Assassin’s Creed with as an open mind as I could. I wanted to enjoy it, really. But unfortunately, it joins Street Fighter in the annals of disappointing video game film adaptions. And worse, it’s not even good-bad.
Let’s get straight into it. Michael Fassbender is Callum Lynch, a criminal with ancestry in the ancient Assassin Order, who are locked in an age-old battle with the Templars. The Assassins believe in peace through free will, while the Templars want to control humanity for their own good. In the present day, a company called Abstergo is part of the modern-day incarnation of the Templars, who are still searching for the Apple of Eden, which is fabled to contain the genetic code to humanity’s free will. Abstergo have invented a device, the Animus – they can put an individual into the device to relive their genetic memories (this concept is explained in the games, but glossed over in the film), and have been searching for a descendent of Aguilar, the Assassin who knows what happened to the Apple. Cal is this descendent.
Cal is a character only drawn in broad strokes: he believes his father murdered his mother when he was a child; he killed a man; he has nothing to live for, I guess. That lazy character-building means he doesn’t really have a personality, or clear motivation, or even character development (how can a character develop when it doesn’t exist?) and subsequently I couldn’t make myself care about him in the slightest. Other characters were similarly shallow, and probably even less interesting.
What should have been its strongest element – the gorgeous visuals – was instead a CGI-heavy, dusty disappointment. The Spanish Inquisition should be a dynamic backdrop, especially with the trademark eagle swooping overhead. Instead, it felt like they had cut costs by throwing thick clouds of dust over almost any shot with potential. No awe at the sprawling city below – just boredom from the low-visibility, half-hearted visuals which seem to take cues from the 300 colour palette. The two thirds of the film that took place outside the Animus were at least less dusty, but similarly lifeless.
The bright side was the parkour they did incorporate, and the fight scenes that weren’t obscured by dust or darkness (the in-universe justification for this is that assassins obviously need to be stealthy – unfortunately this doesn’t always translate well to screen). Viewers who have played the games may also appreciate little Easter eggs here and there, including weapons used in the games, certain movements characters do, and scenery.
Assassin’s Creed‘s problem is that it is entirely too grim – there’s no sense of joy to it at all. There’s no levity or humour to balance out the overly serious, heavy-handed plot, with abysmal lines like this one, from a head Templar: “We’ve tried religion, politics and consumerism to control the masses – maybe it’s time to try science.” That’s not verbatim, but you get the gist of it. It wants to be a serious film, and it is – but not because it’s particularly insightful, just because it’s boring.
Without getting too bogged down, or venturing into spoiler territory, the plot doesn’t hold up to any degree of scrutiny after the cinema lights come back on. My suspension of disbelief was simply not up to the challenge of sustaining so many truck-sized plot holes.
And most of all, I didn’t care about it. I didn’t care about Cal. I didn’t care about his family, or his tragic backstory. I didn’t care about what happened to him, or what choices he made, or his relationships with other characters. I didn’t really care when characters died, or even about the resolution. Assassin’s Creed lacks heart, and there’s not enough parkour in the world to make up for that.