Let’s face it, video game movies have hardly been successful, I already made a bit of a comment on that when I reviewed Warcraft. That’s still not stopped a load of video game companies licensing out the film rights to various studios. Sony is reportedly working on Sonic the Hedgehog film as well an animated version of Super Mario Brothers, good luck with both of those (he says sarcastictly). Halo has supposedly been in the works for years and even sort got a live action straight to DVD film, which no one really saw and there’s a few more that are supposedly on the horizon, though very few have actually been confirmed. I have heard plans for a Fallout film, but frankly I don’t think that is going to happen.
These have clearly all been made with the intention that they hope to capitalise off the success that the comic films have been receiving in recent memory, the problem is though, video game films have the stigma and as a result, they are difficult to get green lit and it means that the video game companies are almost insistent on taking the studio credit. That’s no different with the movie I am reviewing today! With the Assassins Creed movie announcement, this seemed like one of those films that actually would be a good idea. You have got a good set of characters, a great mythology, the whole thing has a great story line and feels cinematic, this could easily be transferred to the screen, just get some really good free runners in the cast and you have got a set hit. With the film being made, however, we also had to get the right director. Enter Swiss director Justin Kurzel, whose name is not very familiar, but I specifically went to see his last film, just to see how well he would do as a director, his last film being the 2015 adaptation of Macbeth, which coincidentally also starred the 2 main leads of this film, Michael Fassbender and Marian Cotillard. That being said however, Assassins Creed may be a late 2016 release, but it’s a New Year’s Day release in the UK and I suspect that by the time this review comes out it will be evident that it will have done poorly at the Box Office considering it opened to systematically poor reviews. Now, I am going in with a completely open mind and I am going in with the opinion that the majority of film critics are not video game players like myself so they won’t have had experience with the Assassin’s Creed Universe, mythology and the general concept. But to be fair, I took along my mum, who has some knowledge of Assassins Creed but hasn’t actually played it a lot and my friend Alex who has no knowledge of the games or the concepts altogether, so we have a complete spectrum on who this film can and can’t appeal to. To be honest, when I saw the trailers and heard about the production of the film, the fact that there were going to be a lot more practical stunts as opposed to CGI, I thought this one might be the video game film to finally break the mould. The question is, was I right?
The plot of Assassins Creed revolves around Cal Lynch (played by Michael Fassbender) who, after being sentenced to death is picked up by the organisation of Abstirgo lead by CEO Rikkin (played by Jeremy Irons) and he puts his daughter Sofia (played by Marian Cotillard) in charge of him. The goal: place him in a machine called the animus which can connect a person with their ancestor. Lynch is descended from the group they are warring with the Templars, known as the Assassins and his descendent was an Assassin during the Spanish Inquisition named Aguilar (also played by Michael Fassbender). Now he and Abstirgo are on the front lines of the ongoing war between the Assassins and Templars. Assassins Creed boasts a plot similar to the games and admittedly it will have some appeal. My mum and Alex actually thought the film was ok, I really didn’t. I like Assassins Creed but this really is not the standard of film we deserved. The film at times is ok but most of it is just horrendous. The biggest issue is the plot. The plot is really sparse. It feels like 20th Century Fox has taken the bare minimum of everything and just put it in place. Despite the fact that the trailers boast that most of the story is going to take place in the Spanish Inquisition, it’s very rarely actually used, I think they only cut back to it 3 or 4 times and even then, most of the time it’s just an action sequence, there’s no real plot in the past, which is a shame considering most of the games, the past segments are the best parts of the story. As a result the sections set in the past have no real characters you can’t get attached to anyone despite the fact that it’s the main hooking points to the film. The present sections aren’t that much better either, there are tons of characters that are just introduced but never really characterised all that much and everyone apart from Lynch feels like an after thought. It’s a shame because there are actually a lot of good ideas here. I think the problem is that they are trying so hard to build a franchise they have forgotten to really build a consistent plot. Granted this film could exist without a sequel, it’s not entirely necessary, but it would definitely benefit from it because in its current state the plot feels rather sparse and incomplete. The problem is, however, the conclusion of the film leaves it rather difficult for a sequel to be in place without casting a new lead, I won’t go into further detail for fear of spoilers but let’s just say the film rather has its cake and eats it. As I mentioned, the characters all feel rather under characterised and they never get fully established. There are some characters, like Moussa played by Michael Kenneth Williams, that’s to the films benefit, but with a character like Cal Lynch it’s to its detriment, for example, we never completely dive into why he was convicted of a murder that warranted the death penalty, we get some explanation, but it feels rather underwhelming and missing a few parts. As a result, you really don’t feel much for the character since scenes that are meant to be really powerful end up feeling like damp squibs. For example, there is a good back and forth between Cal and his father Joseph who is played by Brendan Gleeson which in any other film would be an amazing moment but because of the way the film is paced and the script, the moment feels rather underwhelming again and that’s this film in a nutshell, it’s rather underwhelming. The plot is sparse and all over the place and it doesn’t feel it connects very well. Don’t get me wrong, the games have this problem as well with not knowing how to pace their plots as well and as a result they often resort to time skips to get around a lot of it, but at least the games actually improve their plots over time and realise what fans were and were not enjoying. For example Assassins Creed 4 almost completely removed the present day sections and was to the game’s benefit. The plot is a mess, pure and simple, there is no other way of putting it. It’s not as unintelligible and all over the place as some critics have made it out to be but it’s biggest problem is not an incoherent plot, but that it’s sparse and almost empty it feels.
Now, as for the cast, I actually think this is one of the areas where it shines in some sense. Michael Fassbender, Marian Cotillard and Jeremy Irons are all given the most to do and they are all trying their hardest, the problem is that the script kind of fails them. I often get a sense that despite the fact that Justin Kurzel has worked with both Fassbender and Cotillard before he hasn’t given amazing direction. Jeremy Irons, for all his worth is trying very hard and he brings a certain sinister edge to it that he is very good at doing, however, I don’t feel he gives as much of a presence as he did as say Alfred in Batman V Superman. The best performance in the film for me was in fact Michael Kenneth Williams who delivers one hell of a decent performance that actually deserved a much better movie, other than that most of the rest of the characters are cameos, which is a shame because there are some very good actors in here like Brendon Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling who both feel rather wasted in the film and feel like they have been added purely to add some names to the credits. There are also other great method actors like Khalid Abdalla and Essie Davis, not to mention that Callum Turner, an actor I actually have enjoyed in previous works, like Green Room feels incredibly wasted. Especially considering, after I saw Green Room (a film I just realised should have got an honrable mention on my best 2016 list), I thought he was a real talent that should be picked up by casting agents. Don’t get me wrong, this cast are great, but they just needed a better film to work together on.
Now as for the presentation, when you think of Assassins Creed, you think of those amazing Parkour scenes, and this was the one thing the film had to get right, it doesn’t. The big problem with the Parkour scenes is the way they are shot. Kurzel really hasn’t directed that many action films and it really shows because he has clearly copied Paul Greengrasses’s style that he’s used for the Jason Bourne films which is a style of editing I am really getting tired of. There are so many quick cuts that we are never allowed to take in a scene and that’s a shame because there is some genuinely great stunt work that is put in here, but the editing is atrocious. Not to mention, they put a lot of head cams and weapon perspective cams in the film which really take you out of a scene because it makes it even harder to see. The martial arts actually is pretty good, despite the fact that it still suffers from the same editing problem, the martial arts is one of the things that really shines in the film and there clearly has been some great choreography. Despite the fact that they have boasted that there would be a lot of practical effects, there is a ton of CGI to try and cover up a lot of the issues and create a lot of shortcuts and because some of the practical effects and the stunts are actually very authentic, these scenes stick out even more. Also, the film really cuts away way too soon in several of the action scenes, it’s like they don’t know how to end these scenes and just cut back to them in the present. Trust me, you will know what I mean when you actually see it.
I saw the film in 2D, so I can’t comment on the film’s 3D presentation, but judging by the editing, I suspect it’s pretty bad, though I could be very wrong since Assassins Creed revolves around a lot of hight in places and 3D works very well to give an extra sense of height, as I say though, my cinema were not offering 3D screenings, so I can’t comment on it. If I sound like a fan boy who is going off on one because he’s not entirely satisfied with the adaptation, it’s because I am. Assassins Creed is really the film I expected to be much better than it was, but it really just joins the list of poor video game adaptations that boast the possibility of sequels but which will likely sit in developmental hell for the next few years before being outright cancelled. It’s a real shame because the cast are actually doing a pretty good job but they can’t fix the inane plot which feels underwhelming and incomplete plus some brilliant stunt work has been ruined by incredibly awful editing which never allows you to fully appreciate the effort that has gone into it. There is one thing I will say in its favour, a lot of care and effort has been put in to the costume design and the set design. This really looks like Assassins Creed, the problem is, it doesn’t have the feel of it and it’s not just down to the fact that we have got a new stupid design for the animus which feels completely unnecessary just there to add extra effects. It’s a mess, pure and simple and I am sad to say that because I really wanted to love this film. I think some fans of the game might get something out of it, but I think for most people, this is one they should avoid, trust me, there are a lot better films coming out. I don’t think the 3D will add much so if you do go and see it, check out the 2D version.
No mini reviews this week because this was my first review of 2017 but I may have some for next week.
Speaking of which, it’s time to move on. Join me on 20 January where I will be giving my thoughts on the film that is almost certainly going to receive some Oscar nominations by the time my review of it goes out. It’s Manchester By The Sea, the latest film from writer and director Kenneth Lonegan.
Thanks for reading my review, I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Just stay in with a copy of Assassins Creed 2, you will get way more out of it than seeing this film!!!
Calvin – Nerd Consultant
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