Michael Fassbender in a still from Assassin's Creed Image: Facebook
There's no way around it. One of the most exciting projects of the year has ended up a dud. So much so, that no amount of Michael 'Fantastic' Fassbender or Marion Cotillard could save it from getting assassinated into oblivion.
In Assassin's Creed, a death row inmate is saved by a shadowy organisation because they need him to unlock the memories of his 15th century ancestor Aguilar, to find the location of an apple that contains the genetic code to free will. All this happens because Marion Cotillard wants to end violence — or something. There may have been sillier Hollywood premises, but one of the most successful video games needs something much stronger to keep itself together.
Yes, the film is attempting to give a serious narrative origin story to the popular video game, ostensibly setting up interest in possible future instalments. But it's hard to even feign interest in this one, let alone what might come next. Director Justin Kurzel's film embodies the worst tendencies of modern blockbusters — to feel not like a full movie, but a tease for what's to come. Almost like a television pilot on the big screen. It's become the de facto operating mode for franchise storytelling where instead of relying on a natural interest, the studios force audiences to want more by simply not giving them a full story in the first place.
In the case of Assassin's Creed, they try to give an emotional entryway into understanding the ancient conflict between the Templars, who want order, and the Assassins, who have sworn to preserve free will at all costs, through the story of Cal Lynch. We meet Cal as a kid — a daredevil troublemaker who bikes home to find Patsy Cline's Crazy blaring over the speakers, and his mother dead at the kitchen table. His father, sporting a dramatic hooded cape, is there with a knife and tells Cal that he needs to get out and "live in the shadows." Then some government types in black SUVs storm the house as Cal escapes on the rooftops.
Did his dad kill his mom? Was he trying to protect Cal? Does any of it make a bit of sense having never met any of these characters before? The answers come, but not for a while. By that point, you may have forgotten that you were supposed to care in the first place. The next time we meet up with Cal, he's grown into Fassbender and is on death row for murder (also left largely unexplored). His last words are that he'll see his dad in hell, but then he wakes up in an operating room where Sofia (Cotillard) explains to him that her company faked his death and now he's going to work for her and her father (Jeremy Irons). Cal attempts to escape in the first of three unintentionally hilarious slow motion sequences, but to no avail. They soon hook him up to an insane contraption called the animus, that takes Cal back to 1492 Spain — basically into a video game, where he and his fellow Assassins hunt down this Apple of Eden.
It's all so relentlessly dumb and confusing. Even the visuals lack flair, surprising since Kurzel turned in the stylish Macbeth last year with Fassbender and Cotillard. In the end, the real mystery has little to do with the Assassins, the Templars or the Apple of Eden and more to do with why so many talented thespians thought this film would be a good idea.
(With inputs from AP)