It's not fair to blame Assassin's Creed for the failures of pretty much every other video game movie. Comic book movies were pretty awful for years until suddenly they weren't. All it takes is one to turn the tide. Sadly, Assassin's Creed, which is based on the long-running stealth action game franchise, is bad totally independent from the genre. It is, in all of the worst ways, like the Hitman adaptations which were unnecessarily dense and pretentious. If you're a fan you'll flip for seeing the games' awesome action moves on the big screen, pulled off by a top notch actor like Michael Fassbender, no less. But you'll also be left wondering why they couldn't have tried to make the movie as enjoyable to watch as it is to play.
For the record, I've played my share of Assassin's Creed games, so I know what it's all about. And even I sat there wondering what was going on. There's simply no excuse for such a deadly serious, over-plotted Assassin's Creed movie. The premise, which finds Death Row inmate Callum Lynch (Fassbender) saved from execution by a mysterious organization so he can relive the experiences of a 15th-century assassin ancestor, is ludicrous. So why not embrace its most ridiculous features, which are wrapped up in a lot of pseudo-science and historical mumbo jumbo about the Knights Templar, and have some fun? Blame director Justin Kurzel, who has made three straight movies with each gloomier than the last. He worked with Fassbender and co-star Marion Cotillard on the darkest, most dire adaptation of Macbeth ever and he has no inclination to brighten things up here.
This is a brand new story not associated with any particular game, but the story is a familiar one. Fassbender, an apparent fan of the series, enthusiastically leaps into the role of Lynch, who is strapped into a metal contraption that is part home aerobics machine/part virtual reality time travel doohickey. Lynch is no nice guy. Obviously the whole murder rap thing is a giveaway, but he's also haunted by memories of his dead mother, murdered by his father's blade. Turns out everything is tied to Spanish ancestor Aguilar de Nerha, who in 1492 (Yes, that year is significant and yes, you know who is connected in the cheesiest way imaginable) is part of an elite order of assassins charged with keeping the magical Macguffin known as the Apple of Eden from out of the Templars' grasp. The Apple controls human free will or something like that. Leave it to those uber-Catholics to want to suppress it, while the Assassins want to bring about world peace through copious amounts of bloodshed.
It's perfectly silly stuff, so you'd think it should be pretty wild. Nope, it's all doom, gloom, tons of posturing and stagnant speeches about warrior codes of honor and none of it matters. We're given little reason to care about what any of this means, and the screenplay is murky as Kurzel's visuals. Without clarity the film becomes just a series of random battles, separated by long, boring stretches of scientists babbling about the past. Not even Cotillard, one of the best actresses working today, can make heads or tails of this stuff. Others of equal caliber (Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson) try and fail to find purpose in characters we would furiously try to skip past if they were in an actual game. Fassbender's clearly getting his kicks pulling off some amazing stunts, but the actual performance offers him little to do. Lynch is a nothing character we have little reason to care about.
While no movie can be the interactive experience video games provide, Assassin's Creed at least tries to bring audiences the fighting sequences. The art of parkour, or wall-jumping, is as crucial to the movie as it is in the game. And there is some cool use of a first-person vantage point, which gamers will appreciate. But the film is of so little substance that it has an impact on every aspect. We just don't care who lives and dies. It doesn't help that the choreography quickly grows repetitive, although I think they tried to hide it by veiling everything in fog and shadow. How many times do we have to see the same knife to the gut shot? Assassin's Creed has all of the tools to be the first great video game movie, except for the one thing it needed most: to be fun.
Rating: 2 out of 5