Better Late Than Never: Assassin’s Creed

While watching Assassin’s Creed, I couldn’t help but have a scene from another film playing in my head, over and over. See if you can pick up the significance:

Assassin’s Creed was touted as our “chosen one”, to finally break the long streak of horrible video game-to-movie adaptations. Except we were given Anakin, who, by the end, moans and blubbers while burning on a sandy shore. We didn’t see the anointed one for what he truly was: another failed path; a false prediction.

Maybe that’s a harsh analogy. There were moments, rare though they may be, which worked for Assassin’s Creed. Let’s look at the entire shebang in this, our first iteration of a poor-man’s review system: Better Late Than Never, where you can catch my viewpoints some time after a movie has left theatres, but is perhaps just showing up as “on demand” or through Netflix.

When Assassin’s Creed remembered what worked for its source material, it managed to not quite hit a home run, but the ball at least reached the outfield. Medieval parkour defines the series, and there is one sequence mid-movie where they really make that element work–as Aguilar (Michael Fassbender) and a love interest / accomplice are escaping Templars across the side streets and rooftops of Andalusia, Spain. Half of the fun of an Assassin’s Creed game is the speed and freedom of movement, and one ten-minute stretch of the movie manages this. That sequence might sadly be the single highlight of the entire film.

The rest of it doesn’t quite get what makes their brand popular. I understand that they’re appealing to a film format, but what we as an audience want is what folks playing the game want: to be engrossed in the medieval world. Getting there requires Callum (also Michael Fassbender) being attached to a complicated machine called the Animus, which projects images into his mind and around him, while subsequently lifting Callum around the room–like a toddler playing airplane–in order to to mimic the movements of his experienced vision.

That vision is a link through DNA. Somehow (it’s not explained to us) the Abstergo Foundation’s Animus can take the memories of an ancestor, and have their modern day descendant’s experience them. While I was hoping more time would be spent in the world of Fassbender’s descendant, as an assassin in the 15th century, we’re instead constantly tugged out of our immersion with just short trips to the past, and regular visual reminders that he’s just in a machine.

Having more of the modern day world wouldn’t be such a downside if any of the characters were remotely interesting. Callum’s emotional range varies between extremely grumpy and psychopathic, and his motivations remain perpetually dubious. He’s not a hero or an anti-hero–he’s just kind of there, going through the motions. His main handler and the project’s lead, Dr. Sofia Rikken (Marion Cotillard), seems bizarrely unaware of her father’s evil machinations, and believes she’s doing the world a service. Her father, Alan Rikken (Jeremy Irons), is maybe the most believable among them, only because he’s static throughout. Callum, by comparison, somehow absorbs his ancestor’s traits and becomes a calm assassin, while Sofia steps into her father’s shoes in order to become the evil corporate master. This especially doesn’t feel right and hasn’t been properly developed.

Ultimately, the goal of the film is for Callum to use Aguilar’s memories in order to lead Abstergo (a front for the sinister Templar organization) to something called Eve’s Apple, or just the Apple. The Apple will supposedly unlock the genetic code to free will, and let the Templar control people’s actions (I’m assuming), though any details on how or why this works are kept painfully close to the vest. You could substitute just about any holy relic for the Apple and it’d make little difference because they don’t flesh out just what it really does, or how they read this genetic code and then turn it into a usable form.

It’s a venture so massive that at one point Alan’s Templar superior mentions that without immediate results, they’re going to pull his 3 billion dollars a year of funding. 3 billion dollars–really? I guess 3 billion dollars used to go a lot further, because nothing on screen indicated that they, just a small portion of the entire Templar outfit, were throwing around that kind of cash. Abstergo’s facility is overly large and geometrically beautiful, but even that I wouldn’t peg at more than a few hundred million. And we’re talking about per year. For some comparables I’ve done a bit of research. The Large Hadron Collider, which employs over ten thousand scientists and involves the efforts of over 100 countries, has an annual operating budget of 1 billion dollars. An average NFL team is worth 1 billion–meaning they could buy 3 teams a year for the price of the Animus. And as Buzzfeed points out, a billion dollars alone could buy 22,000 single engine airplanes. At that, we’re only a third of the way to their yearly budget.

The one thing worth taking away from this movie is where most of their work went. Hint: not the script itself. They did pay a fair amount for some big name actors–in order to lend the film credence–but visual effects (aside from a soaring eagle that always looks too fake) is likely the expenditure column that saw the most items. The cinematography was strong, with great, baroque lighting. It often felt like they were at location rather than on a Hollywood set. And the Animus, for all its techno-wizardry that makes no sense, did look and sound rather nice.

So, the opinion people most often flip to without fully reading a review is the score at the end. My rating score is a simple yes or no question: Did I fall asleep during this movie? Yes, I did, though I managed to stay mostly awake until the very end, nodding off at various points, but not a deep slumber. I ended up fully missing the last 10 minutes and had to go back later to catch them, which shows you the power of the film’s climax–it’s about as invisible as a hooded assassin on a crowded Andalusian street.

Featured image credit: Screen Rant


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