Ubisoft’s star franchise falls flat on its face after a leap of faith into a new medium.
I had low expectations going into this movie, but I still expected this movie to be at least passable. Apparently I didn’t set the bar low enough, because Assassin’s Creed tripped on that bar and fell face first into a steaming pile of mediocrity.
Rather than retelling the story of a previous Assassin’s Creed game, the movie instead follows a man named Callum Lynch, who is taken by Abstergo Industries and forced to relive the memories of his ancestor: Aguilar, an assassin during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The Abstergo CEO’s plan is to obtain the Apple of Eden in order to rid the world of free will – because violence is bad.
Most of the Assassin’s Creed story is focused on the assassins in the past, but the movie went with the opposite approach, focusing more on the present day. This was a bad decision because of a number of reasons. The biggest reason is that neither the Spanish Inquisition segments or the Abstergo segments were interesting. The past segments were mostly just action sequences while the present day sections consisted of 50% Callum yelling at things and 50% Abstergo being evil. The plot had very little weight to it and it barely felt like progress was being made until the very end.
A plot can only be as good as its characters, so not surprisingly they weren’t that great either. Callum doesn’t really stand out as a character; his personality consists of snarky dialogue, interacting with people like he just got woken up at five in the morning and character motivations so unclear they might be nonexistent. I had no real grasp of who Callum is and what he wants, until the very end of the movie where he became another mass-produced hero character who fights for good because the plot says so.
Aguilar on the other hand was more understandable by about… five percent, at most. Unlike most protagonists from the games, we don’t get to see Aguilar’s life from youth to adulthood, or see why he became an assassin or what importance he had to the assassins and history. We see Aguilar get initiated into the order at the start of the movie, and then we see three or four scenes from his life, with all but one of those scenes being action sequences, which rather than developing Aguilar’s character instead just shows him being “cool”. We don’t get much about Aguilar’s personality other than he is loyal to the creed and has a girlfriend/wife /partner who he cares about. He feels less like a character and more like a plot device with legs who stabs people.
The other characters are only slightly better – at best. The Abstergo CEO just barely breaks the mold of stereotypical CEO villain through his parasitic relationship with his daughter, taking the credit for her achievements. The daughter was a decent character, but at the end she has a moment of character seppuku, abruptly becoming somebody completely different than who she was for the rest of the movie. Or at least I think that’s what happened, as the movie was unclear about that too. There’s also a number of assassins in similar predicaments to Callum, being forced to relive their ancestor’s lives for Abstergo’s benefit, but I never really got much of a feel for them. It would have helped if the movie told us a bit more about who these people were beyond just assassins or showed us what kind of ancestors they had.
Many of the characters in this movie either lacked motivation or didn’t make their motives clear. I spent a good chunk of the movie wondering what it was that Callum wanted, and there’s one point where he willingly helps Abstergo, only to change his mind ten minutes later because he had a vision. The character development in this movie felt unfocused and chaotic. I couldn’t tell why half the characters did the things they did aside from “because we’re the good guys/bad guys”.
One thing I will say the movie did well was the visuals. The set designs were faithful to the games, the props were well crafted and the CGI blended in well with the rest of the film.
The choreography was also done well. The characters fight and run very similar to how they would in the games, but I couldn’t appreciate the choreography as much as I would have liked to because the fight scenes were often fast paced and the camera was too wobbly. It fits well with the style of the assassins: fighting fast dealing quick decisive blows, but it would have been nice to slow things down once or twice.
Acting was fairly solid too, if not oscar-worthy, but it feels like the cast was doing what they could with the roles they were given. It’s like someone with a degree in art was paid to draw a detailed portrait using half-eaten crayons and a marker. They’re talented people in poorly written roles.
What really killed this movie for me was the past segments. In the games, the past segments were where the story truly was, following the life of an important individual who history forgot. Instead of being the story’s meat, the past segments are short, poorly written scenes whose primary purpose is to contain the bulk of the movie’s action sequences. These segments barely fit together, as each scene feels as though a large chunk in between was skipped over. One moment Aguilar is chasing a carriage and the next he’s about to be burnt at the stake. The motivation for going into the past doesn’t even come up in these scenes until the final past segment, which fails to give Aguilar closure and features the most random cameo by a historical figure because “welp, the games had famous people”.
I can’t really tell who this movie was supposed to be aimed at. If it was designed to appeal to an audience outside fans of the game series, then it does a bad job. A lot of the basic details of the series, such as how the animus works, aren’t really addressed well in the film, which I can see confusing newcomers. It’s definitely not for the fans, since this movie offers them nothing for them. No new story details, no excitement over seeing our favorite characters on the big screen, and there were very few references to the events and characters of previous games. It felt like Ubisoft needed to release something Assassin’s Creed related as part of their contract with the elder gods, but didn’t want to make a game, so they just paid someone to make a movie and called it a day.
Assassin’s Creed demonstrates that they have the resources to make a good Assassins Creed movie; faithful prop and set design, skilled actors, and good visuals, but what it lacks is focus, purpose, and good writers to really nail the story and characterization of the games. If you want to see Assassin’s Creed on the big screen, you’re better off buying a really big TV and the Ezio Trilogy.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Directed by: Justin Kurzel; Distributed by: 20th Century Fox