REVIEW: ‘Assassin’s Creed’ misses mark for all but game’s fans

As far as films developed from video game properties go, Assassin’s Creed is a solid entry.

It’s faithful to the source material while re-imagining its signature visuals in a manner more befitting a big budget film. The parkour-style chases, martial arts action, and the series’s labyrinthine mythology are all here, as well.

In short, fans of the popular game series shouldn’t be too disappointed with what they get.

For other audiences, however, Assassin’s Creed comes up short of satisfying entertainment. It’s just too uneven, with certain elements working well while others fall flat.

What’s it about?

Michael Fassbender (X-Men: Apocalypse) plays Callum Lynch, a convicted murderer seemingly living out his last days on death row. Haunted by a horror he witnessed as a child, Cal’s been adrift his whole life, and so has no qualms about that life finally ending.

But he gets a surprise when instead of dying, he wakes up in a scientific compound in Madrid, Spain. His “rescuer” is Dr. Sophia Rikken (Marion Cotillard, Allied), who spins for him a tale almost impossible to believe.

Dr. Rikken needs to access memories stored in Cal’s genetic code, memories of an ancestor who lived over 500 years ago, Aguilar de Nerha. Using a device she invented, Cal can relive Aguilar’s experiences to help her and her organization, Abstergo, find a relic lost to the ages.

For Dr. Rikken, the relic represents a chance at nothing less than an end to human aggression. But for her father, Dr. Alan Rikken (Jeremy Irons), the CEO of Abstergo, it’s so much more.

The Rikkens and Abstergo, as it turns out, are part of the ancient order of the Knights Templar. Templars for centuries have sought ways to bring order to the world through subjugation and control.

The Templars only true opposition are the Assassins. Bound by their creed to preserve mankind’s freedom, generations of Assassins have fought the Templars at every turn.

Cal’s ancestor, Aguilar, was an Assassin. His memories of the relic are the keys to the Templars’s final victory.

But those memories also represent answers to questions Cal has had his entire life, missing pieces of a puzzle he didn’t even know existed. Once unlocked, the memories put him on a path to a new destiny, and show him at last who the architects of his lifelong pain have been all along.

Assassin's Creed teaser poster

Series fans should enjoy it

To those who’ve played the games, Assassin’s Creed the film truly is the game’s world and mythology brought to life. Signature elements from game play, from the modern technology to the stylized weapons and physical feats the Assassins perform, it’s all here.

Further, some of those elements, in particular the technology used to access genetic memory, have been re-imagined. Everything looks bigger and more dramatic, in particular Callum’s adventures in the past while connected to the Animus.

It’s clear the film’s producers and its star wanted to create something fans would delight in, and for the most part, they’re successful. The “Easter eggs” from the games included in the film’s production and costume design alone should inspire knowing smiles among the faithful.

But just like adapting anything else, fidelity to source material doesn’t necessarily make for a strong overall film. You still have to tell a good story and tell it well from start to finish, and that’s where Assassin’s Creed misses the mark.

Woefully uneven

Ironically, what keeps Assassin’s Creed from sticking the landing is the time-jumping, going back and forth between Spain in 1492 and the present day. The scenes set in the past thrill with strong action choreography and compelling visuals. Costumes and production design during these sequences are also the most interesting in the film.

The 21st century scenes, meanwhile, are all dimly lit and cast in the same overused bluish filter that’s come to signify futuristic incarceration and corporate oppression in recent sci-fi cinema. It’s a cinematic shorthand that panders to audience expectations; thus, these scenes feel the laziest in terms of craft.

Plus, these scenes¬†tend to get bogged down in exposition and somnambulent line deliveries. It’s during these sequences that the film’s oh-so-acclaimed cast looks and sounds the most like they’re slumming.

That is, with the exception of Fassbender. As the one character in the film who appears in both time frames, he delivers lethal intensity in the present day scenes while capably handling the physicality and presence demanded by his sequences as Aguilar.

But Fassbender’s efforts alone aren’t enough to lift Assassin’s Creed beyond mediocrity for casual audiences. As good as he is, you’re likely to walk away only liking certain parts of the film, rather than the cohesive whole.

Worth seeing?

Fans of the Assassin’s Creed games should put aside any trepidation caused by past bungled film adaptations of video games and give the film a try. At the very least, it’s worth catching all those nods to the games in the production design, and seeing Fassbender along with the others playing Assassins bring that aspect of the game to life.

For anyone else, however, Assassin’s Creed simply isn’t worth the leap of faith, at least not at the box office price. If you’re curious about it, wait for it on video.

In the meantime, you can perhaps try one of the games.

Assassin’s Creed

Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Michael K. Williams. Directed by Justin Kurzel.
Running Time: 116 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language.

Felix Albuerne
Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.