written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
The world of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed is unlike our own, the storied game franchise has built itself on using history as a backdrop for a generations long battle between the power hungry Templars and the shadowy Assassin Brotherhood. For a little backstory, the narrative follows both groups chasing down Pieces of Eden, powerful artifacts with the potential to change the course of history. The backdrop of the film adaptation follows the Templars chasing down the Apple of Eden, said to be the artifact that Eve stole from the Garden of Eden. With these pieces of Eden being held by both Templar and Assassin alike, Templar funded Abstergo uses a machine called the Animus to access the memories of these Assassins to find any clues they may have to retrieve these artifacts.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons… the film is full of Hollywood pedigree. The thing is, film adaptations of video games are yet to experience the same golden age that comic book films have enjoyed for the last two decades. Could this be the film to finally give us a good video game adaptation?
The film opens during the Spanish Inquisition, introducing Aguilar de Nerha (Fassbender). As a member of the Assassin’s Brotherhood in Spain, they are tasked with protecting the Apple of Eden from the Templars and their plans to control the populace. Present day, Callum Lynch (also Fassbender) is set to be executed. After Abstergo fakes his death, they transport Callum to their lab in Spain where we first get a glimpse of the film universes take on the Animus.
With Callum being the descendant of Aguilar and the Templar’s armed with the knowledge that Aguilar was the last known Assassin in Spain to have held the Apple of Eden, they use the Animus to access Callum’s DNA to force him to relive parts of Aguilar’s life in the hopes that they can find some clues about where he left the Apple. High ranking Templar Alan Rikkin (Irons) and his daughter Sophia (Cotillard) are tasked with pushing Callum to synchronize with his ancestor to finally find a clue.
If you are a fan of the game series and feel like this sounds familiar, you aren’t crazy. Despite introducing a new Assassin in a new timeline yet to be covered by the games, the overall plot is almost line for line ripped from the first Assassin’s Creed title released in 2007. In place of Desmond we get Cal, instead of Warren Vidic there’s Alan Rikkin with Sophia playing out like Lucy did. Even the way they interacted felt eerily familiar. Alan would want to push Cal to force the memories out of him, subject’s safety be damned, while Sophia opted for a gentler approach. Even introducing aspects of the Bleeding Effect, a plot device used in the games to explain how the descendant begins to learn from their ancestors… in a sense turning Cal into the Assassin his descendant was.
There’s alot of plot present through the whole film, but while most video game adaptations suffer from a paper thin narrative full of action… Assassin’s Creed suffers from the reverse. There lacks a balance between plot development and action sequences, even the times we get with Aguilar feel far too brief. Imagine if the Assassin’s Creed games spent most of their time in the present day with flashbacks to the lead’s genetic past feeling more like an afterthought. This wouldn’t make a good game, but even more this goes against everything that makes Assassin’s Creed so enjoyable. There wasn’t enough time to care about Aguilar or his companions, while they did manage to develop the Callum Lynch character decently… Aguilar felt wasted.
On a positive note, one aspect I though I was going to hate from the trailers was how they adapted the Animus. In the games, the Animus is basically a bed or chair that records what the subject experiences while in a catatonic state. The film turns the Animus into a harness that forces the subject not to just relive Aguilar’s memories in his mind but to actually act out these moments. It made sense and made scenes where Cal was in the Animus feel more dynamic.
Unfortunately, the film suffers from an oversaturated plot and forgettable characters who pale in comparison to those from the games. Lacking most of what makes the Assassin’s Creed series what it is, it's a shame that despite working so hard to please movie goers, fans of the games, and Ubisoft they fail to craft a good film. I was bored, and unfortunately I have to say this yet again another video game adaptation that lets me down. I wonder how long it will take to give us a truly well crafted film based on a video game. For now, I’ll have to shelve Assassin’s Creed and pin my hopes of The Last of Us… a shame really... I had such high hopes.