Assassin’s Creed, starring Michael Fassbender hasn’t even made it through its first weekend in theaters, and already critics are being relentless in their dislike of the film. David Blaustein from Good Morning America is at the top of the snob list, giving the film one and half out of five stars, and ending his review by saying “Assassin’s Creed is easily the worst movie Fassbender and Cotillard have ever participated in, and given that they’re both terrific actors, I can fault them only for choosing so poorly.” Well, Mr. Blaustein, seeing how Trolls is one of your most praised movies of the year, you’ll forgive us if we don’t take your review seriously. Then there’s Rotten Tomatoes, who, unfortunately has the power to make or break somebody’s opinion of the film. They gave it a 19%, praising it for being better than most video game based films but called it a “joylessly over plotted slog.” Since only people with English degrees would use a word like “slog” it’s safe to assume that they had already planned on giving it a bad review before they even sat down to watch it. Now, for the sake of a fair and balanced review, let’s pretend that it’s neither based on a video game nor already predisposed to bad reviews because of a stigma that isn’t always true.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, it revolves around a seemingly never-ending war between two factions: the Assassin’s and the Templars. In the games, you play as the Assassins who, through a machine called the animus, can walk in the shoes of their long dead ancestors, who lived hundreds of years ago. The Templars are seeking to control the world by taking away humanity’s freewill, using an artifact left behind by the first civilization or God (they’ve been unclear about whom) called the Apple of Eden. For those of you who have read the Bible or at least have some knowledge of religious history, you’ll know that the Apple of Eden is something that Eve pulled from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the book of Genesis, and by taking a bite, she introduced sin into the world. In the games, however, the apple isn’t a piece of fruit, it’s a piece of technology with the genetic code for freewill and by tweaking it, the wielder can bend mankind to their bidding. Naturally, this is a bad thing if the apple is placed in the hands of the Templars. Thus, the reason for the existence of the Assassins. They will protect the apple at even the cost of their own lives, forsaking love, friendship and even their own families to keep the rest of the world safe.
The film takes a similar approach, but unlike its videogame predecessors, it gives you a story that starts and stops in just over two hours. The protagonist is a man named Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) who is a convicted criminal being put to death. After the lethal injection is performed, he wakes up (that’s not supposed to happen) at a facility in Madrid called Abstergo Insudstries, where the company’s head scientist, Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), reveals to him that he is a descendant of Aguilar de Nerha, a member of a secret order of assassins, who knows the whereabouts to the Apple of Eden. She places him in a machine called the animus, where he gets to relive the memories of Aguilar, the last known protector of the Apple of Eden. In typical Assassin’s Creed fashion, the Templars, who happen to run Abstergo Industries, twist Lynch’s view of the assassin’s into one of villainy by making him think that his father murdered his mother in cold blood. However, without getting into any spoilers, there’s more to it than that. Then there’s Sophia’s father, Alan Rikkin, who runs Abstergo Industries and in a play of desperation, pushes Lynch further into the past, and ultimately brings about the return of the Assassin Brotherhood.
There’s a lot of layers to this film, but it’s difficult to sift through them all without giving away too much. While that might make the film sound complicated. It’s not really that complicated. They present the questions and then they answer them. By the time the film ends, everything is wrapped up and makes a lot more sense than you might have originally anticipated. That being said, like every cinematic adventure it has its good and bad traits.
First of all, what stood out the most was the cinematography. Adam Arkapaw did a great job of seamlessly editing the fight scenes and the transitions between past and present. In the hands of an inexperienced cinematographer, a film like this might have left the audience with a headache or ruined the pacing, but everything feels smooth and without gaps. Then there’s the acting. Yes, without Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, it’s possible that this movie would have been a train wreck. However, knowing that a film like this isn’t exactly normal for actors of their caliber, they took the parts and brought them up to the next level with intensity and emotion that’s never been used in a film based on a video game.
Now for the bad. Because this is an origin story, it suffers from the thing that most origin stories suffer from. They tried to take several years and mediums worth of backstory and history and shoved it all into a two-hour movie. While they certainly did it better than Warcraft, to people who haven’t played the game, it might seem a bit overwhelming. Next is just about everything that takes place in the past. Every scene that takes place in the past is a high octane, visual feast. However, there’s so little depth to the characters of Aguilar and Maria, who obviously shared some sort of romantic relationship that wasn’t explored. In the video games, both characters, past and present, are properly developed, or at least to the point where you sympathize with their struggle. Again, granted, there’s a difference between a video game and a two-hour movie, but these are all just things to keep in mind in case a sequel moves forward.
At the end of it, the film ends just the way you’d expect it to, setting things up for a sequel. And if you weren’t expecting something worthy of an Oscar, it’s quite fun and entertaining. As for the poor critical reception, both Fassbender and director Justin Kurzel probably expected this kind of hatred because the film is indeed based off of a video game. However, it’s slightly unfair to the film for critics to go into it thinking it’s going to rack up nominations for anything. Not every film ever made has to be about overcoming oppression or tragedy of one kind or another. Sometimes it’s nice to sit down and watch a movie without having to think. Sometimes people like to go to the movies not to be moved to tears but instead to have a good time and enjoy the ride, which Assassin’s Creed more than accomplishes. And let’s not forget that it’s been released to almost half the number of theaters Sing or Passengers have been released to, and in the shadow of Star Wars: Rogue One, an opening weekend (so far) just north of $11 million isn’t bad. Do yourselves a favor and give Assassin’s Creed a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised.
4 out of 5 stars