Assassin’s Creed Review

Assassin's Creed (2016)

I must admit right out the gate that I have never played an Assassin’s Creed game before watching this movie. Of course I had heard of them and I was always intrigued about their imagery and popularity, but sadly didn’t had the time to actually sit and play one of them, so I approached this movie with no preconceived notions or any expectation other than just watch a hopefully good film, and in that sense I was definitely satisfied.

Developed by Ubisoft, the Assassin’s Creed series focuses on a centuries-old war between the Knights of Templar and the rebellious Assassins, a war that spans across different historical time periods and into the near future. So far, nine games have been released in the main series, and as such the mythology has grown well beyond of what can be included in a single movie. In order to be able to stay true to the cannon and still create something new, both filmmakers and the developers of the game series decided that making a new story with new characters but still set in the same universe of the video games was the way to go.

Marion Cotillard as Sofia Rikkin and Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch in Assassin's Creed (2017)

And so, the story in the Assassin’s Creed movie focuses on Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a prisoner on death row. His execution is faked by the modern Templars who kidnap him and held him captive at the Abstergo Foundation facility in Madrid, Spain. He eventually learns that he’s the descendant of 15th century Spanish Assassin Aguilar, a key figure in the search for the Apple of Eden, an artifact that contains the genetic code to free-will. Abstergos’ head scientist Dr. Sofia Rikkin believes that said object can be used to eradicate violence from the world and she offers Callum the chance to start a new life if he helps them find it. Callum, who suffered a personal tragedy early in his life and considers himself to be a violent man, doesn’t seem much interested, but nevertheless he’s forced into connecting to the Animus, a machine capable of reading genetic memories and display them in virtual reality, effectively making the person connected to it experience them as their own.

The story jumps back and forth between the modern, real world and Aguilar’s adventures in the 15th century relived by Callum in the Animus. Both world are beautifully realized and contrasted stylistically in color, mood, and the way they develop the characters. The modern world scenes are slower, with gray and blue tones used to stress the feeling of oppression of a place that isn’t actually a prison but that feels like one. In here we see Callum and Sofia develop a relationship that never reaches something romantic but develops both their stories. From the moment we meet Callum, he is a prisoner without much of a free-will constantly tossed in situations beyond his control. Sofia is an idealistic, and she hopes to create a better world. Whether she understands the consequences of her actions and what she hopes to achieve is another subject. Both Fassbender and Cotillard sell their characters struggles and make them sympathetic.

Assassin's Creed (2016)

Action kicks into high gear however in the Inquisition scenes. Director Justin Kurzel uses aerial shots to establish the place and follow the action, much of what comprises of Aguilar and his allies free running and displaying incredible acrobatic skills. Fights scenes are energetic and so brutal and violent, they are one drop of blood away from R-rating territory, and accentuate the grittiness and danger of the location and the Assassins’ mission. Whereas Callum is captive and constantly confused about what is going on, Aguilar is free to run, fight and jump his way through his enemies. He isn’t alone in his quest with Maria (Ariane Labed), an ally and romantic interest, by his side. Those portions of the movie are so entertaining and beautifully looking that I wish a little more time was spent with them.

From time to time however, we are pulled right out of the flow of those exciting 15th century scenes with Callum’s interactions with them, and while visually beautiful, it does feel like watching him playing a video game at times. It’s a little jarring at first, but as the movie advances and Callum and Aguilar’s journey become more and more connected those moments start to feel more natural and actually help push the plot forward with a nice pay off near the end.

Assassin's Creed (2016)

To accompany such amazing visuals, you need a score that can work and perhaps enhance what you are seeing and Jed Kurzel’s score doesn’t disappoint. It major strength lies in how subtle it is. The music is mostly atmospheric and works nicely with the slower moments, even adding them a hint of tragedy and loneliness, while the acoustic sounds and increased rhythm that accompany the action scenes accentuate the break-neck pace they  carry. This is the first time I’ve heard something from Kurzel, and I’m very excited to hear what he’ll bring to Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant later this year.

Something I think the film could’ve improved is the characterization of most all of the secondary characters. Jeremy Irons appears as a major antagonist in the present day as Sofia’s father and CEO of the Abstergo Foundation, but he and the other Templars in the film are your standard one-dimensional villains. The other Assassins’ descendants held captive could have used more development as well, because on the surface they look like interesting characters. Oddly enough, the Assassins and Templars on the Inquisition scenes are much better portrayed, even if most of their performance come from fighting, staring and limited dialogue.

Making the jump from video game to the big screen is a difficult task, and it does come with some prejudice no matter how good the intentions and final product turns out to be. With Assassin’s Creed, director Kurzel, Fassbender and company have made a movie that is a wonder to watch in every frame, with a captivating story that jumps between a character’s realization of his true nature intertwined with some jaw dropping action. Right now we don’t know if a follow up will be made, but if it is, I’m up for the ride. Meanwhile, I think I’ll try to free some time to finally catch up on those video games.

The good:
Visually the movie is stunning and the action is very entertaining. Also Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard elevate the film.
The bad:
Secondary characters are under developed. Also, we could have used more 15h century scenes.
Bottom line:
If you don’t have prejudice about video game movies and are able to invest in the main characters in the slower scenes you might enjoy this movie.