Film Review: ‘Assassin’s Creed’

Assassin's Creed
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

How is this video-game movie different from all other video-game movies? It's got classier stars, but it's really the same old sludge.

It used to be that when a highly touted actor — a prestigious actor, a thespian — agreed to star in a piece of schlock, he might be grateful for the work, but the job was still undertaken with a pinch of shame. When Laurence Olivier played a leering rapacious soap-opera gloss on Henry Ford in Harold Robbins’ “The Betsy” (1978), or when Michael Caine gallivanted around the globe to star in paycheck movies from “Blame It On Rio” to “Jaws: The Revenge,” no one was fooling anybody.

How times have changed. “Assassin’s Creed,” in which Michael Fassbender plays some sort of leaping, fighting, time-tripping — but still moody and sullen — bare-chested historic warrior dude, is a mediocre video-game movie that has branded itself in a most revealing way. The film is coming off 20 years of soullessly trashy and forgettable video-game spinoffs (the “Mortal Kombat” and “Streetfighter” films, “Max Payne” and “BloodRayne,” the “Lara Croft” series, this year’s “Warcraft”). But “Assassin’s Creed” isn’t fighting the junkiness of that pedigree — it’s using it to prop up its own pretensions. The hook the producers are selling is, “Here, at long last, is a video-game movie that’s a cut above the others.”

Shot in somber sci-fi Renaissance tones, “Assassin’s Creed” has a “Masterpiece Theatre” cast that’s ten times classier than it needs, it cost more than $150 million to make, and it’s deeply self-serious about its long-ago-and-far-away setting: 15th-century Spain during the Inquisition, which means a lot of solemn religious dogma and burning at the stake. Fassbender takes on the role of Callum Lynch, a modern-day criminal saved from execution and forced to enter the memories of an Inquisition-era Assassin, as if he were playing Neo from “The Matrix” crossed with Hamlet. His every tragic gaze and saturnine grimace tells the audience that this isn’t just some glorified dystopian joystick ride — it’s real drama! Except that it isn’t. In “Assassin’s Creed,” Michael Fassbender is like the ultimate special effect. Just by showing up, he confers respectability on two hours of semi-coherent overly art-directed video-game sludge.

Callum has been saved from death by Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), a mysterious CEO so lost in time that he still wears a black turtleneck, and his daughter, Sophia (Marion Cotillard), who is the lead scientist at Rikkin’s company, Abstergo Industries. It’s Sophia who oversees an experiment that’s the film’s mystical knockoff of virtual reality: Callum gets strapped into an airborne harness that looks like a dental X-ray machine from hell, with a monitor implanted in the back of his neck, and the apparatus zaps him back through time to channel the memories of Aguilar de Nerha, the Assassin who is his ancestor. Callum’s mission is to find the hidden location of the Apple of Eden (“The seed of mankind’s first disobedience”), which is somehow connected to the words of Christopher Columbus.

It’s not clear why any of this is happening, but to say that “Assassin’s Creed” doesn’t make a lot of sense would be both accurate and beside the point. The film’s plot is a shambles, yet everything in it links back, with loopy exactitude, to the past — like the suspicion that Callum’s father, Joseph (Brendan Gleeson), killed his mother, though at the behest of forces greater than himself. Or the fact that Abstergo Industries is a front for the Knights Templar, the order of Christian fighters who first emerged during the Crusades. Are we supposed to read some sort of higher statement into the fact that they’re the movie’s bad guys?

I won’t attempt to parse the fetishistic levels of “meaning” woven into the “Assassin’s Creed” video games, but in the movie the material is derivative in the extreme. Basically, we’re watching “The Matrix” and “The Da Vinci Code” get Cuisinarted into weaponized action sequences that look like they came off of old heavy-metal album covers. There’s an aura of cult doom hanging over the action, but that just makes everything on-screen feel glumly ritualized and abstracted. The Knights Templar, man! How sinister-theological-cool. It’s all a way of creating “mystery” where there is none.

A movie like “Assassin’s Creed” doesn’t just revolve around dueling cults (the Knights Templar v. the Assassins). The film is all about the cultish complexity of its cosmology; it treats its audience of video-game connoisseurs as a ready-made cult of fans eager to obsess over the film’s visual expansion of the games’ design. It’s seriously doubtful that the movie will find enough of those fans in the U.S. to qualify as a domestic success. Yet that may not matter: In the suspended vagueness of its drama, “Assassin’s Creed” speaks the kinetic aesthetic language of the global market. As directed by Justin Kurzel, the film looks like a period painting recreated through pixels of murk; it suggests a Tony Scott movie lit by Vermeer. And it includes one spectacular money-shot image: men diving off of tall buildings, like superheroes with a touch of suicidal grandeur.

Yet the visual effects are scattered and arbitrary, and the actors are mostly reduced to props. Cotillard, punked-out in a rather Teutonic way (she looks like something out of “Metropolis”), makes her presence felt, and Irons delivers a couple of droll lines that provide the film with its only dabs of humor. But Fassbender, despite his traumatic exertions, begins to disappear inside the tightly composed frames. The movie, in its grab-bag philosophical way, makes a big deal out of the purported last words of the 11th-century Persian missionary Hassan-i Sabbah (which were then popularized by William S. Burroughs): “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” In “Assassin’s Creed,” anything goes, nothing takes hold.

Film Review: 'Assassin's Creed'

Reviewed at Regal E-Walk, New York, December 16, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 116 MIN.

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a Regency Enterprises, Ubisoft Entertainment, New Regency Pictures, Ubisoft Motion Pictures, DMC Film, The Kennedy/Marshall Company production. Producers: Jean-Julien Baronnet, Gérard Guillemot, Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Michael Fassbender, Conor McCaughan, Arnon Milchan. Executive producers: Markus Barmettier, Christine Burgess-Quémard, Jean de Rivières, Serge Hascoët, Philip Lee.

Crew

Director: Justin Kurzel. Screenplay: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage. Camera (color, widescreen): Adam Arkapaw. Editor: Christopher Tellefsen.

With

Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams.

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  1. Quality articles is the secret to interest the users to pay
    a visit the web page, that’s what this web page is providing.

  2. I honestly wonder if the author of this article realizes how absolutely self-righteous and self-absorbed he comes across. He seems personally offended by this movie, leading me to wonder if Michael Fassbender stole his girlfriend in high school or something?

    Also, we get it–you know a lot of words. You don’t have to use ALL of them in a single review. Less is more.

  3. whiskeyriveraz says:

    This article is clearly written by someone who doesnt like the movie nor the games.Someone w ho also,just as clearly,doesnt like common movies that can entertain just for what they are,rather than what you come into with preconceived expectations of.Some films arent made for deep thinking experts,but for those who just enjoy an entertaining ride.And the term ‘entertaining rider” is relative to e ach person watching it.
    This movie was more or less made for those who are fans of the games,and who know and understand what is going on.
    Try playing the games a little.

  4. Adam Bradford says:

    “It’s not clear why any of this is happening, but to say that “Assassin’s Creed” doesn’t make a lot of sense would be both accurate and beside the point.” – Loved that line! Why was the movie so needlessly confusing? Also, this movie was really about 15 minutes long if you took out all the needless fight sequences in the past; the action was supposed to amp up the audience, but because it was in the past, I didn’t feel the gravity of the action.

  5. Dan says:

    Wow… Your review was just, well it was just dog shit wasn’t it? But it doesn’t matter, you’re in a position where your opinion has already been paid for. You’ve shot this horse before it even left the gate. The sad thing is, Alex is right you’re all so irrelevant now. Movie critics used to be a useful source. When they did their job. Sadly now, like most mainstream “journalists” it’s a case of be the first the deliver the killing blow, or find the best way to cannonball someone’s project. You talk about sludge… Mate that entire article was full of it.

  6. Alex says:

    Seems to me, that you’re just one of those asshole critics. Writing a review on a movie you have yet to watch? Seriously? Have you become so irrelevant, that you desperately have to write bad reviews, just so it makes you feel in the least amount of relevance? Clearly you don’t understand anything about the story, nor even the plot of Assassins creed. I suggest you do some research about it first, there’s plenty of games, and even books to read about what Assassins Creed is all about. Truthfully, you’re just a mediocre, average Joe shit the rag boy of a critique, who had to use his precious thesaurus in order to come up with such big words, to write such a blind review. It’s no wonder your career was such a failure, that you’ve had to write such lackluster reviews, on mediocre websites, where anyone can just make an account, and write something. I find it amusing that you refer to a movie you’ve never seen as the same old sludge, yet you along with plenty of other C+ critiques, write the same old sludge on websites such as these. Do us all a favor, and educate yourself next time, rather than just diving into the deep end. You might be able to save at least the dignity, of your so called career.

  7. Someonewhocanwrite says:

    Read up about Assassin’s creed before you write a review based on a trailer where they are trying to hide the story

  8. daPorquemada the Inquisitor says:

    I’ll wait for Tom Hanks to do a DaVinci Code IV sequel that painfully telegraphs every single plot point to us.

  9. Suzy says:

    Even the negative reviews make this movie sound a whole lot more interesting than the others out there.

  10. Michael K says:

    “Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), a mysterious CEO so lost in time that he still wears a black turtleneck”

    Ok that’s hilarious. This whole review is gold.

  11. Mike Sanders says:

    “Shot in somber sci-fi Renaissance tones, ‘Assassin’s Creed’ has a ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ cast that’s ten times classier than it needs.”

    Sort of like using “saturnine” when describing a character in a video-game movie?

  12. millerfilm says:

    We all know these are paycheck movies! Fassbender isn’t fooling us. :-) Last night, on “60 Minutes,” Denzel Washington openly talked about going off to make another movie “to pay the bills.”

  13. You do realize there will be more fanboys/girls dishing out money for this than dished it out for “real” drama like Shame, right? Apparently you missed his other work in the now-classic films Jonah Hex, Haywire & Blood Creek.I’m a huge Fassbender fan but money is money.

  14. DougW says:

    Not their best work, but I wouldn’t call “Blame It On Rio” schlock. Screenplay by Larry Gelbart, directed by Stanley Donen.

  15. Brad Olinger says:

    Wow, clearly the author of this piece doesn’t understand that the entire concept of the Animus is based on genetic memory. I have no doubt that this will make more than enough money to recoup it’s costs. As far as the clearly religious overtones about the Templars being the bad guys, they were in the game, and in history not above corruption. While I admit there have been a lot of bad video game films in the past, Warcraft certainly wasn’t one, and can stand on it’s own as a fantasy film, and I have no doubt Assassin’s Creed will do the same. I will point out that comparing it to the Matrix is only guaranteeing it will be a success. The one new trend which is making video game films more palatable is the game companies themselves are now producing them, so they stick to the story line. Another quick note, the Assassin’s Creed series has always had a highly metaphysical element to them, in a way that blends science and fantasy with history. Just my thoughts, but I did want to point a few things out.

    • Rex says:

      So, looks like you were WAY off on this being successful. I suspect only gamers are surprised at this news. Every time the get a new screen adaptation, they rush to counter the negative reviews with WAY too many explanations about why it’s really faithful and will make a mint, and then they’re proven wrong time and again. Video games are quite successful independenly of Hollywood and virtually EVERY adaptation outside of the first Tomb Raider and the Resident Evil franchise (which digresses WILDLY from the game) has and will end up as a footnote in cinema history, not matter how much money they throw at it.

    • Jeff says:

      I completely agree with everything you have said, the reviewer is obviously not a gamer and doesn’t understand why it has sold over 100 million copies over the series of the game. I for one will go see it, but I have also played the majority of the games and am highly entertained by them. They mix pseudo history with exciting gameplay. Even at $150 million, it will still make money, especially worldwide. I really hope they make another based around Unity in Paris, that would be amazing to see the French Revolution on the big screen with a guy running around killing people with precision.

      • Rex says:

        So here were are after Assassin’s Creed BOMBED at the box office and it’s now official that MOVIE CRITICS DON’T HAVE TO BE GAMERS. Wow, fancy that. Also true: gamers should actually SEE game adaptations BEFORE getting all butthurt about them and pouncing on critics who are often proven to be right fairly quickly.

  16. Bill B. says:

    I guess it’s the money, but this is one of the finest actors working today. Shame he wastes his time crap like this.

    • CaeliRose says:

      If you are referring to Michael Fassbender, this movie was only made because of him. Fassbender is a HUGE fan of the Assassin’s Creed game series. He is the one that approached the Ubisoft about making it and even offered to help fund it himself. He fought for years to get this movie up and off the ground to get made. If you’ve never played any of the games then you really can’t compare it to other game/movie crossovers because Fassbender is more familiar with the source material than most other crossovers (not including Warcraft).

  17. Tim James says:

    It’s a shame you made up your mind to hate it before watching it. You’re clearly bringing anger to this that goes beyond the scope of a mere review.

  18. Practical Voice in the Hollywood Wilderness says:

    Why even bother releasing it domestic? You can already seeing the wound hemhorraging money.

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