Film School: Assassin’s Creed – Gaming the System (Review)

Assassin’s Creed dips its toes into some of filmmaking’s murkiest waters: video game adaptation. So, considering the film’s delayed production, troubled genre and low expectations, can even the masterful Michael Fassbender elevate a movie based on a game? Maybe.

Lots of things get adapted into movies. We’ve seen books, comics, SNL skits, TV shows, and even notes on a bar napkin successfully received on the silver screen. But for some reason, despite some rich and deep storytelling, video games have mostly failed when it comes to producing a quality cinematic product. Sure, there are franchises like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider that have turned a profit, but not a single one of the seven films between them has broken out of the 30% bracket on Rotten Tomatoes (I’m not a fan of their scoring, but this illustrates a trend).

Last year we got Warcraft, a feature more inspired-by than based-on its corresponding game. Warcraft was one of the most fun and entertaining fantasy action movies this decade, yet despite a great cast, solid story and beautiful production quality, it got trashed by most critics. Does this mean the stigma of being a game-based movie is too strong to overcome? If you make a good video game movie, can it also be critically acclaimed? Right now, no. Most critics don’t understand the films they’re reviewing let alone have an understanding of games and their style of storytelling.

This is a problem since big-named reviewers and their corresponding outlets can offer “opinions” that can make or break a title with little pre-existing name recognition. So how do studios counter that pre-bias toward the genre? Casting. Bring in heavy hitters like Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard and viewers might be more likely to skip the clickbait and just buy a ticket.

Now let’s get to the question at hand: is Assassin’s Creed good? Yes. But not great.

Managed by up-and-coming director Justin Kurzel, the film’s strongest and weakest aspects lie in its story. Or, more accurately, how that story is told. The good: The use of a character not directly from the games while keeping the situation he’s in directly corresponding to the existing lore is excellent. Fassbender’s Cal Lynch – descendant of the Assassin Aguilar –  is a new player in a very old game. In a world where the Templars and Assassins are tangled in a centuries long secret war, Cal feels right at home as the Templar controlled corporation Abstergo seeks the ancestral information locked in his DNA. Using a machine called the Animus, they look back at what his Assassin ancestors have done. Or in this case, where they may have hidden something.

The bad: Normally I love when a story drops the viewer directly into the action. You, as the spectator, see and learn things as the characters do. It allows for a frantic, intense experience more closely simulating what the person on the screen might be going through. This happens in Assassin’s Creed, but not to that same effect. Instead of feeling frantic and stressed, it was more choppy and disconnected. It doesn’t ruin the film, but the pacing just missed the mark a little.

The blending of past and present, like in the games, is seamless. You’ll spend time with Cal and Aguilar, both characters worth the screen time. But like in many well developed concepts, it’s the supporting cast you’ll fall in love with. For me that was Maria, played by Ariane Labed. Partner to Aguilar, Maria is intriguing, mysterious and compelling as the best secondary characters should be. You will want to see a movie just about her by the end.

Without doing a who’s-who, the entire cast is really good. Each impactful role making sense once you met the character. It’s the cast and their subsequent performances that shine here versus the overall story. Again, the story is good, but the execution – pun intended – felt messy.

As a fan of the games, story is only half the… story. If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed, you’ll want to know about the action, and it’s fantastic. The scenes where you’re transported to the past, watching Aguilar being an “Assassin” are worth your money. Based on the early trailers I was concerned the parkour and fighting would look too much like kung-fu wire work instead of smooth, finessed physicality, but I was wrong. The time spent traversing buildings and in hand-to-hand combat is exactly what you’d want it to be. I hate saying something impossible looks “real,” but this looks as real as you’d want AC action to look. I’m very impressed with how much this emulates the games while still giving you something you haven’t seen yet.

Supporting both the “then” and the “now” is some really excellent set design. The production team was meticulous when assembling the world visually with each moment on each set relaying all the necessary aesthetics while maintaining a high level of visual interest. Basically, everything looks really cool.

Overall – and despite the soft box office numbers – Assassin’s Creed is a really solid action movie. It pays an appropriate amount of attention to the game-established history while streamlining the narrative for an unindoctrinated viewer. And though the storytelling is a bit muddled, the performances, look and action of the film are fantastic.

So if you like action, interesting concepts and Michael Fassbender… SEE THIS MOVIE!

If you’re a pretentious snob who judges things before seeing them… I think you can still rent Black Swan.

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About The Author

Michael Pellegrini

Michael is a classic example of a child trapped in an adult’s body – and I use the word “adult” very, very loosely. With interests ranging from comic books and movies to theater and fine art, Mike has followed humble journalistic beginnings that have led to interviews, reviews, news write-ups and opinion – though it’s ever changing – pieces covering those same interests. All of that brings us here, to a site where a community of like-minded geeks can inform the rest of the world on the topics we adore.

And on the personal side of things, Michael squeezes time for his lovely wife and house full of dogs between all the comic reading and video game playing.

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