Assassins Creed (2017)

ass.jpgEver since this film was announced I’ve been curious to see it. I was a huge fan of the first Assassins Creed videogame, it felt like a breath of fresh air and something genuinely new. Sure, some of the story was daft in a ‘Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code’ kind of way, but it was a gaming experience that clearly lended itself to a cinematic treatment. Cast news etc during the making of the film seemed impressive and the intent was evident to make the proverbial ‘first good videogame movie.’

When the film came out, it quickly became apparent something was wrong and I chose not to go to the cinema to watch it, and even when it came out on disc I steered a wide berth, when in years past it likely would have been a blind purchase- but my curiosity remained. Well, I’ve finally gotten around to watching it, and the reviews and word of mouth seem pretty much right.

It is curious that the wife of Assassins Creed‘s Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, herself featured in a movie based on a videogame (the Tomb Raider reboot) and it largely suffered from the same problem that Assassins Creed does – it was just too faithful. There are both sincere and well-made but treat the source material with simply too much respect, becoming stilted and marred by too many action set-pieces intended to evoke moments of the videogame originals. Both films needed a life of their own, I think.

In Assassins Creed‘s case, the inherent daftness of the central premise is only accentuated by the film taking it all too seriously and elevating far too highly. This isn’t Shakespeare, and it isn’t even Tolkien or George R.R. Martin. I’m not suggesting being irreverent either, or even being a little camp, but it just seems to me that an adjust was needed. Right from the start and the opening text (that is largely I suspect for non-videogame familiar viewers) the tone is wrong: For centuries, the order of the Knights Templar have searched for the mythical Apple of Eden. They believe it contains not only the seeds of man’s first disobedience, but the key to the free will itself. If they find the relic and decode its secrets, they will have the power to control all freedom of thought. Only the brotherhood called the Assassins stands in their way… 

Maybe I’ve watched too many conspiracy films/tv shows and too many sagas with secret societies and well, maybe too many Dan Brown books/movies. Its all very pompous and apocalyptic and self-important. Better, I think, to have just introduced our protagonist to the mystery gradually, and the audience with him. Maybe eased off with the two warring factions of Templars and Assassins- the central premise of the story, that history can be re-experienced through genetic memory, is conceit enough for a film, I think. You can ‘buy into’ a lot of that other stuff fine in a videogame, in just the same way as you can all the mythology in comicbooks, say, but once you start translating all of that into movies, well, you’re risking all sorts of trouble. It becomes too larger than life, I think.

Which is a curious thing to consider- maybe it’s blowing things up onto a movie screen, with real actors and a music soundtrack and visual effects, all of that, maybe that’s artifice enough, that even subconsciously as a viewer there’s sometimes just too much suspension of disbelief involved with all the videogame paraphernalia on top of everything. Indeed it is the same problem comicbook movies have, managing to accept bizarre realities with people dressing up in weird costumes and defying all the laws of physics with their superpowers- its okay in a comic but in a movie it can all look a bit… weird, daft.

In any event, this film is structured strangely anyhow, with a strange quest (trace the fabled Apple of Eden) with indistinct reason (Templars defeat Assassins, ensure peace through the end of Freewill, whatever it actually means) and uncovering the strange lineage of our convict hero with Daddy issues. Its just a messy story awkwardly told, unless I was paying insufficient attention.  I suppose you just have to go along with all the nonsense, particularly when our baddie finally gets the famed Apple and, rather than use it to ensure World Peace etc, he waits for the annual Templar Convention in London to do it because he’s a sucker for a showstopper and the applause of his superiors. I mean, you’ve got the answer to Everything and the vindication of centuries of struggle and sacrifice and you just… don’t use it? I know it would have been the end of the movie, but, you know, why script it like that and leave it hanging like a big plot hole just sitting there bugging me for the rest of the movie.

Not that there was a lot of movie left after the bad guys attend their annual bad guy conference: most damning of all, the film fizzles to a halt, just stopping as if we are missing another twenty minutes and a ‘proper’ ending. Are we supposed to be left on the edge of our seats waiting for another installment? Well, that may be the cause, because there was evidently a franchise in mind with this film, a familiar blight of films now. You can’t just tell one, self-contained story anymore with a beginning, middle and end, no, it’s all a serial now, just more the pity when poor box-office cuts such prospects adrift.

So Assassins Creed was quite frustrating. A great cast, and some really nice action sequences and art direction, competently done generally, but undermined by a stodgy script laden with self-importance and lapses of logic. I also think the direction (or maybe it was the editing) was lacking at times, in simply telling the story. Its one thing to maintain a mystery, another to leave the audience lost not understanding what’s going on or why. Mind, it all seemed to make sense in the videogame.

But videogames aren’t movies, and movies aren’t videogames…

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