They somehow made a convoluted video game narrative more convoluted.
Set in present day, after being executed by lethal injection, Cal Lynch wakes up at the mercy of a high-tech organisation created to dissolve violent tendencies in humans. They know of an ancient artifact called The Apple of Eden, that can do this, but to locate it, they need Cal’s ancestral memories as a member of the Assassin’s Brotherhood, acquired by the use of a machine called The Animus.
Video game reviewers and connoisseurs will tell you that the Ubisoft franchise Assassin’s Creed has one of the most bonkers storylines ever conceived. With the first game released in 2007 and nine releases on major home consoles (with mixed receptions!) a film adaptation was not surprising. Especially with Ubisoft’s other triple-A title Prince of Persia having a film release in 2010.
With all video game adaptations, there’s a small hope that “this is the one”; this is the adaptation to prove video games can work as films, that they do have good and exciting narrative. Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed becomes an endurance of jargon-sodden script writing, a convoluted screenplay and terrible editing.
Featuring Michael Fassbender (who dips in and out of an accent) as Cal, but also his assassin descendant Aguilar, and Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons as well as Michael Kenneth Williams and Brendan Gleeson all making appearances, it has the basis to be a strong experience. But where the film falls down hardest is its amateurish way of building any sense of suspense, rushed storytelling and choppy editing.
We see Cal forced into The Animus, a Matrix style device that makes him relive moments of the past through the eyes of Aguilar. The film gleefully jumps in and out of the Animus, tossing the audience through time and space like it is shuffling cards, making everything feel irrelevant as it does so. We get heaps of jargon when he is out of the Animus, and while he’s in we get extremely chopped up and over-edited action sequences. When you are making an adaptation of games that are all about parkour and physical feats, you don’t over-edit the scenes to make it look faked! You need a steady camera and long takes.
On top of this, Jeremy Irons is the villain from the get-go.
“Oh no, spoilers”, said no one.
While the video game Assassin’s Creed slowly developed this deception; the player learned secrets as the game progressed, the film doesn’t even try to hide a revelation or deception. Straight out of the gate: yep, Templars are evil, and these guys are modern Templars. Even the thug who is in Cal’s face the whole time has a striking similarity to the guy from his ancestral memories trying to kill him.
The film takes itself incredibly seriously too, everyone speaks about changing the world and death and greater goods. It is so confident, even when it’s talking gibberish.
On the plus side, the film is good to look at (despite it being edited into confetti) and I would have loved it to stay in the Animus for longer, get the audience invested in the story through the ancestor’s experiences. That was the point of the games, after all. The actors involved look like they are really trying with the material they have been given, Fassbender is a surprising but good fit for this franchise.
Honestly, I am reaching for positives.
Without a good screenplay and pilling on jargon from the video game, general audiences will be lost, for example: Marion Cotillard’s surprised and awestruck line, “A leap of faith?” means absolutely nothing to general audiences. It barely means anything to fans of the video game. It’s just written in there because that’s a term used in the game.
So sadly, Assassin’s Creed really isn’t anything to write home about. If only it had focused on the events in the past instead of tossing us in and out of the Animus device. Keep it simple and build towards a suspenseful climax. How hard is that?