Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Assassins Creed (2016 movie) review

    Assassin's Creed is a series I have great fondness for. I love conspiracy theories and alternate history, which is what the franchise survives on. I love the idea of an Atlantis-like precursor culture that created humanity via genetic engineering, only to be overthrown by their slaves until a natural disaster wiped them out. I love the millennium-long war between the Knights Templar and the Assassins which predates the actual orders in history. I also love Michael Fassbender and was really looking forward to this movie.

    Unfortunately, the first mistake I believe this movie made was the same one which was made with the Resident Evil movies: stray too far from the games and you lose something. Basically, Michael Fassbender was originally supposed to be Desmond Miles (the protagonist of the games) but got re-envisioned as "Callum Lynch." It turns out, instead of an adaptation of the first Assassins Creed, we were going to have an adaptation of an entirely new set of characters which just happened to closely resemble the games.

The Suicide Squad-esque opening could have been shortened.
    I understand the need to change things up and compress: both Desmond Miles and Altair have distinct arcs spread across the original game that would be hard pressed to put into one single movie. You have Desmond's imprisonment by Abstergo Industries, the search for the Apple of Eden, and the larger story about how Altair is forced to learn what it means to be an Assassin after screwing up a mission. Still, I was disappointed and the fact so much of the movie tried to exposit through these details didn't help.

    The premise is Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is a death row inmate who is "rescued" by Abstergo Industries/The Templars before being put in an Animus. His father Joseph (Brendon Gleeson) was a Assassin who murdered Callum's mother as a child for reasons unknown but seems to be related to his capture by the Templars. Callum is greeted by Sophia Rikkin (Marion Collitard) who informs him he's a descendant of an even older Assassin named Aguilar (Fassbender again) who hid the Apple of Eden during the Spanish Inquisition. Sticking Callum in the Animus, he relieves his ancestor's memories until he comes to the point where he must decide to side with Abstergo or his ancestors.

I like the new Animus at least.
    The movie's major flaw is it wants to deal with a lot of the exposition in the story without any real way of knowing how. It even has an opening placard, which doesn't really help the story much. Also, none of the characters really take a moment to react to the strangeness of the premise, which would have helped ground the story. This lack of economy of storytelling really weighs the story down. I mean, yes, Assassins Creed is a profoundly weird setting but you can sell even the most bizarre stuff if you have the right sort of actors--look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

    The movie also hurts from the fact the best sections of the film are clearly the ones actually set in the past which are filmed like they're straight out of the games. Aguilar doesn't get much in the way of personality or exposition but he manages to impress by the way he slaughters hundreds of Templars. We also get to see a real-life Leap of Faith that more or less justifies the movie's existence by itself (especially since it was done without CGI). Even so, with as many parts as the movie is juggling, there's still more elements added by the Animus sequences with a kidnapping plot of Spain's prince as well as the question of love vs. duty.

Unfortunately, Aguilar seems more interesting than Callum despite his limited screentime.
    Speaking of love vs. duty, the Assassins and Templars don't do either side much in the way of service with their presentation in the movies. The Assassins really do come across as a bunch of closed-minded fanatics even though the movie is entirely on their side. The Templars are on their usual crazy psychotic "world domination" patrol but Marion believes eliminating violence from humanity is worth the cost (unaware the cost is the goal). Again, I miss Ezio and Edward Kenway for the fact they had big personalities independent of their Assassin status.

     There's a good deal to like in this movie if you're a fan of the series. The cast needs to be commended as no one gives a bad performance. Jeremy Irons adds a stately presence to the movie and is the perfect Knight Templar Grandmaster/Corrupt Corporate Administrator. Marion Collitard does an excellent job as Sophia Rikkin, selling she really thinks altering human biology to remove free will is a good idea despite how horrifying it is. Fassbender also does an amazing job with his limited material, making me wonder how he would have done playing a character closer to Ezio. I also loved the production values and new Animus.

Some really great action sequences in the past.
    The movie has way too many moving parts from the game while adding more to provide character beats that don't have room to pay off. Callum Lynch hates his father for murdering his mother and being a closed-minded fanatic, Sophia dislikes the fact her father perverts her work for his own gain, and Aguilar never once mentions his father but wants to be with Maria who only cares about Assassin business. That's in addition to the quest for the Apple of Eden which is never adequately explained as being valuable but could have been if they'd had time. I actually wish this movie would get a sequel as some of these plots feel like they could have paid off if they'd had time to.

    In the end, I think the movie is okay but suffers from taking the material way too seriously while removing much of its energy. There's a distinct need for a Shaun-style character to lighten things up and give context to the setting. Marion Colitard is a great actress and beautiful but they should have gotten Kristen Bell to show up as she would have sold better the idea of the Templars not being all bad (except not). While I love the modern sections in the games, I also think this would have worked much better if 75% of the movie had been in the past and the present-day sections were the remaining 25% versus the reverse.


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