Director Justin Kurzel
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson
Released 1st January 2017
If there’s one line in Assassin’s Creed that’s destined to be quoted in review after review, it’s this. The year is 2016, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) has been rescued from death by lethal injection and installed at a medical facility in Madrid. He’s in the canteen, getting stuck into a large steak and wonders out loud “What the fuck is going on?”
As plot summaries go, it’s about as pithy as they come. But if he didn’t understand, then nobody at the screening I attended stood a cat in hell’s chance. Indeed, confusion reigned, with only those familiar with the original game managing to make a modicum of sense out of what was happening on the screen.
The history of films based on games has bee littered with casualties of late. Although we could be forgiven for believing that Assassin’s Creed promised something above average: Fassbender and Marion Cotillard re-united with their Macbeth director Justin Kurzel and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw. Admittedly, I wasn’t bowled over by their interpretation of the Scottish Play last year and my reaction to their latest offering is much the same, but for different reasons.
So, here’s my attempt at explaining the storyline. Just bear in mind I’m not a gamer. At the medical facility after being spared his death sentence, the troubled and violent Callum is introduced to Dr Sophia Rikkin (Cotillard), who has developed radical technology that unlocks genetic memories. When it’s tried out on him, he’s taken back to his Spanish ancestor, Aguilar, in the 15th century. But Callum also discovers he’s descended from a mysterious secret society, the Assassins, and finds himself on a mission to rescue the genetic code to human free will.
That’s a simplified version, not so much to make it spoiler free but to give you a chance of understanding what’s going on. Because it’s way more complicated than that: the code, for instance, is locked away in a mythological apple. Here come the Adam and Eve references ….. Like Fassbender says, again with unconscious irony, “We work in the dark to serve the light.” I don’t know about the light, but he and his assassins are certainly in the dark. And so are we.
The film shares some of the problems that characterised Macbeth. Once again, Kurzel displays his flair for strong images. And, once again, he’s so hand in glove with cinematographer Arkapaw, that any semblance of a coherent plot or decent dialogue are sacrificed on the altar of the visual, this time even more so than in their Shakespearean venture. You can sit back and appreciate the visuals, but the film needs much more than that to stand any chance of satisfying its audience. Yet it seems that particular penny hasn’t dropped yet for Kurzel, and it’s even more obvious this time round as he doesn’t have the blank verse of The Bard to fall back on.
As if a plot riddled with confusion isn’t enough, it’s made worse by some self-confessed moral ambiguity. Who the good guys are and who the enemy isn’t always clear: in itself, it’s not a problem, and could have taken things in an interesting direction. But if the audience is being asked to make up its own mind about the characters, it needs to know a lot more about them before it can make an informed decision. It simply isn’t given a chance.
If you’re looking to start 2017 in cinematic style, then Assassin’s Creed isn’t what you’re looking for – unless you just want style and nothing else. Assassin’s Creed or Assassin’s Crud? Not a difficult decision ……..
Assassin’s Creed is released in cinemas on Sunday, 1 January 2017 and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 5 January 2017.