It will come as a surprise to none but the irrationally optimistic that Assassin’s Creed, a high-budget film adaptation of the hit video game series, is a bad, bad film. Boasting a distinguished cast and a promising director, this is nonetheless an aggressively nonsensical grind from start to finish.
Video game adaptations of course have a pretty lousy reputation, from the famously atrocious Bob Hoskins-starring Super Mario Brothers to more forgettable pieces of rubbish like 2015’s Hitman: Agent 47. With Assassin’s Creed, however, there were some early signs of superiority. The director, Justin Kurzel, had just finished a superb adaptation of a far more daunting text, that being Macbeth. The film was a real success, bringing vigour and surprise to a story that has not only been told for centuries, but given numerous enviable film adaptations. With Macbeth leads Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard attached to Assassin’s Creed, how bad could it really be? As it would turn out, extremely.
The plot, for those (like myself) unfamiliar with the original material, concerns an ancient feud between two secret sects – the ‘Assassins’ and the ‘Templars’. The series takes its name from an oath uttered repeatedly by the Assassins. This creed, needless to say, is doggerel. What’s more, it would seem the screenwriters have little idea what an assassin actually is, appropriating the term into an all-purpose buzzword for kickass, shadowy renegades.
“an aggressively nonsensical grind from start to finish”
These medieval Assassins fight with the Templars over possession of the ‘Apple of Eden’, a magic artefact that mustn’t fall into the wrong hands, or else. Fine. Stupid, yes, but a lot of fun can oft be wrung from simple, stupid setups. But wait! Our protagonist is a present day burnout (Fassbender), who, after being given the lethal injection for an unseen crime, is taken to a research facility in Madrid where he is forcibly plugged into a giant machine and made to experience his ancestor’s memories. If you’re confused, then we’re on the same page. This film is absolute nonsense. Characters behave irrationally, the premise is fatally convoluted, and the godawful dialogue won’t let your disbelief waver for a moment.
This is a film with a clumsy excess of context but absolutely no subtext. The world is vast, spanning continents and centuries, but gossamer-thin. Even Fassbender, who has brought amazing depths to self-hatred in Shame, and to blistering evil in 12 Years a Slave, is wholly unequipped to save so ungainly a debacle as Assassin’s Creed. This is most likely his worst ever performance, a scene in which he is dragged through the halls scream-singing ‘Crazy’ recalling Nic Cage at his absolute stupidest. Other performances are similarly bad (including hammy-at-the-best-of-times Jeremy Irons), although it is harder to blame, say, Michael K Williams for not turning down a role in a film this size.
In short: you are very unlikely to enjoy Assassin’s Creed. It’s an obnoxious, vapid flop, only confirming the existing prejudices about video game adaptations. Years from now, if you try and talk about Michael Fassbender’s Shame, don’t be surprised if people assume you are referring to this.
Image: 20th Century Fox