Assassin's Creed takes the popular video game series from Ubisoft and adapts into a blockbuster movie developed by Ubisofts's new film division. The hope is that by having the game developer controlling Assassin Creed's production, the film will usher in a new (and improved) era of video game movies.
So, is Assassin's Creed the revolutionary game-changer (pun) that was hoped for? No. But that doesn't stop it from being a fun enough action movie experience to please fans of the games, or those who don't need their action films weighed down by things like story and character.
As a standalone narrative (especially for newcomers who haven't played the game), the film is a muddled and convoluted experience. Just establishing the premise of film takes a lot of time, work, and superficial exposition - all which fail to prepare the average viewer for the sight of a mechanical arm that can somehow transport someone into the memories of their ancestors.
That's not to mention the character and world-building needing to be done in two different time periods. While fans of the games may be able to take it all in, the average viewer is handed a very confusing and outlandish idea with some thin exposition, and basically told to "go with it." Things get even more bogged down with an abundance of side characters (in two time periods), some half-hearted attempts at larger thematics (the nature of violence), religious iconography - and of course, the obligatory nods to the video game series.
The latter includes a sweeping eagle-eye view motif that frames each act and major set piece, uses up a lot of visual effects, but has little relevance to the actual film. Indeed, a lot of Assassin's Creed is (ironically enough) held back by its stylistic obligations to the game series. Whenever director Justin Kurzel (Macbeth) cuts loose with his own vision of things, the film is something much more cohesive and special; whenever it's trying to remind us that it's a video game movie, it loses life faster than an inexperienced Call of Duty player.
With no cohesive visual approach, the film is an odd mismatch of stunning moments versus moments that look like your stereotypical video game B-movie. There are complex sequences executed flawlessly, versus other moments where visuals and/or sound are so choppily edited you wonder how they made it to final cut. Perhaps it's the odd nature of the subject matter, but Assassin's Creed feels as confused about how to own its differing halves as a lot of new viewers will be, and it all translates into the final confusion of a somewhat lackluster movie experience that still somehow leaves you wanting more.
Giving things a boost is another great performance from Michael Fassbender, who takes half a character (Cal Lynch), and a third of one (Aguilar), and makes both men compelling subjects to watch onscreen. Fassbender's electricity is about the only thing pumping blood into the scenes between each impressive sequence of blood spilling - but Marion Cotillard is just as dynamic as a cold and clinical foil to Cal. The two Oscar-level actors play a great psychological cat and mouse game that's worth watching all on its own... until another round of hokey exposition and visuals pulled straight from the fame remind us how silly this all is. Meanwhile, great actors like Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, Brendan Gleeson and (especially) Charlotte Rampling get thin bit parts to play out, adding as much as they can with what they have.
The high point of Assassin's Creed is definitely its action sequences. The fight choreography is hard-hitting and yet smooth as a ballroom dance, with those kitschy-yet-cool superheoric moments (assassins frozen in badass poses) that fans will love. Moreover, the parkour-style chase / fight sequences are quite possibly the only unique aspect of the games that distinguish this film as a representation of said games, and those sequences are the highlight of the movie, delivering a slick and thrilling adrenaline rush that action fans will see as proper return on their investment.
In the end, Assassin's Creed isn't the start of a new revolution for video game movies (far from it), but it is solid enough video game movie with some great action moments. If that's the type of game you want to play with your wallet, then go for it.
Assassin's Creed will be in theaters on December 21, 2016. It is 115 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language.
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