I enter every film based on anything other than an original screenplay the same way: I’m of a firm belief that you shouldn’t have to have had any exposure to the source material to appreciate or understand the movie being watched. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the easter eggs or other references tucked away in film based on a comic book, TV series, etc. But a film needs to work for all audiences, and not just those with an intimate knowledge of the material being adapted. That seems like both common sense and common courtesy (and will likely help at the box office).
With that being said, Assassin’s Creed is a fucking terrible movie on every imaginable level and even levels I didn’t know existed. Based on the video game series by Ubisoft, this big-screen take on the material is a visually murky, nonsensical work that has somehow ($$$$$) attracted a large number of really talented actors to run through the paces of a story whose stakes are an utter mystery. What little I know about the video games is that it’s set in a fictional history that includes a centuries-long struggle between the Knights Templar and the Order of Assassins, who are both attempting to gain possession of an artifact known as the “Piece of Eden” (in the film, it’s called Apple of Eden, just so you don’t miss the biblical reference). It’s meant to represent man’s first step into the realm of free will. If I remember, the Knights want it to control people’s minds; the Assassins just want to keep it from the Knights.
Only that’s not what the movie version of Assassin’s Creed is about. Most of the film takes place in the present day world, with executed convict Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) being snatched up by a group of scientists, led by Sofia (Marion Cotillard) and her father Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), and brought back to life for the sole purpose of being placed into a virtual reality experience where Cal enters the body of his ancient ancestor Aguilar (also played by Fassbender) living in 15th century Spain, with the hopes of finding out the hiding place of the Apple. Got it? Me either. But I’m fairly certain that what we’re watching is Lynch playing the video game, while also absorbing the knowledge and fighting abilities of an Assassin in the process.
The film is something of a reunion for Fassbender, Cotillard and director Justin Kurzel, all of whom worked on last year’s effective Macbeth adaptation. But this time around, they all seem lost, which is easy to understand since literally every sequence in Assassin’s Creed is obscured by dust, smoke, fog, mist or some manner of hazy veil. I have to assume that this technique is used to cover up truly shitty special effects or the obvious use of stunt people in certain scene, but it feels like a stylistic device used by Kurzel, and it destroyed any chance that I could enjoy any aspect of this movie. Is the production design worthy? I have no idea because you only catch fleeting glimpses of it. Did Kurzel forget that films are a visual medium, and that audiences need to actually see the goings on in order to appreciate it?
All the more baffling are the presence of such fine actors as Brendan Gleeson, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Charlotte Rampling, given nothing to do beyond looking really serious and delivering nonsensical speeches about violence, sacrifice, and the Apple. And while I probably could have gotten into a more traditionally made action film about the hooded Assassins running and flipping and stabbing and doing archery, what we get instead is a mess for both the eyes and the brain. Sofia and Rikkin claim they want the Apple to “cure violence,” but the film has no such ambitions…I think. It’s hard to tell because I couldn’t see a damn thing.
I’ll leave you with this fitting note. When Cotillard first orders her minions to take Fassbender to the machine that taps into his ancestor’s past life, she says sometime like “Prepare the Animus,” but I was positive she said “Prepare the enemas,’ which having now seeing Assassin’s Creed feels like it could have gone either way. You can say all you want about terrible character choices in other films out this holiday weekend, but few things infuriate me more than plain and simple bad filmmaking.
Assassin’s Creed is unwatchable.