The long wait for a good video game adaptation continues.
Callum Lynch sits in the mess hall of a secret lab, having just been ported into the memories of a master assassin, his ancestor. He holds an apple firmly in his hand and says, “what the fuck is happening?” Mr. Lynch, you took the words right out of my mouth! His question is one I felt throughout at least 4/5 of the new adaptation of the popular Ubisoft video game series, Assassin’s Creed. There has never been a good video game adaptation (see the list here for proof). There have been entertaining tries and near misses, like the Resident Evil series and Prince of Persia, and there have been lousy ones that have aged into cult classics, like Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter. There has yet to be a universally respected video game adaptation — a film that both audiences and critics enjoy. Some thought the drought would end with Prince of Persia. Nope! Some thought it would be Assassin’s Creed. Nope! The wait continues. Maybe it’ll be the new Tomb Raider film, ’cause it ain’t gonna be the Rampage film, and likely not the final Resident Evil installment. Nevertheless, Assassin’s Creed is a total mess, lacking a coherent story, engaging characters, and even the visuals are disappointing, which is a bummer coming from such a beautifully cinematic game series.
Michael Fassbender is Callum Lynch, a convicted murderer brought into a secret science lab by Sofia (Marion Cotillard) to take part in a revolutionary out-of-body technological experience. Using a machine called the ‘animus’, Lynch is “transported” into the memory of his ancestor, Aguilar, a Master Assassin in 15th century Spain. Aguilar is battling the Order of the Knights Templar during the Spanish Inquisition in order to locate the Apple of Eden, an artifact which connects directly back to humanity’s first deceit and the birth of free will. Rounding out the cast is Jeremy Irons as Sofia’s dad, Rikken, who runs the secret lab and has his own mysterious agenda. Basically, every character has their own version of what a perfect society looks like, and they’re competing for the power to see their respective visions come to life. Buried within all of this mumbo jumbo is an interesting yet challenging idea to explore — that removing free will is a solution to humanity’s systemic and genetic predisposition to violence. Sadly, Assassin’s Creed is more interested in fast-cut, dust-covered action, which would be fine if it weren’t so fast-cut and dust-covered.
Now, I want to talk more about this dust. I’ve never seen a film so obsessed with filling scenes with dust. Like, CGI dust. Perhaps the filmmakers were trying to hide some lackluster special effects, but from what I could tell, a majority of the film was obscured by dust layers being kicked up by the action or just placed in the forefront of each environment. It was incredibly aggravating. With more exhilarating action, I’d be less inclined to nitpick around the characters and story, but director Justin Kurzel seemed to have lost control of the story and production at a certain point. I don’t want to blame Kurzel, because his tremendous skill as a director was on full display in last year’s incredible Macbeth, which also starred Fassbender and Cotillard. Or perhaps the blame here is on Fassbender, who is making his producing debut (not counting executive producer credits), and may have lost control of the production himself. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the writers, special effects teams, and editors were not in sync. The incoherence and joylessness can’t really be explained any other way. If they can, let’s send the explanation to Hollywood execs so we can finally have a video game adaptation worth recommending to others.
Assassin’s Creed comes out in theaters Wednesday, 12/21.