Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbdender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling and Michael K. Williams
Studio: Regency Enterprises & Ubisoft
Phew, you’ve got to feel for Assassin’s Creed. Like any film based on source material with a fiercely loyal following, whether it be a popular book or hit game series, the pressure the movie adaption was under to please must have been crippling even before Director Justin Kurzel yelled ‘action’. I know that despite being the first big film adaption to be co-produced by a game studio (Ubisoft Motion Pictures), many hardcore gamers have been left deflated by Assassin’s.
It’s understandable that viewers would inevitably compare the film to the game and have high expectations. It’s human nature. But you have to ask yourself did you go to see Assassin’s Creed to see a game brought to life on the big screen or did you go for a good bit of filmic escapism and entertainment? That’s the catch with expectations, as I’m sure many had with the film counterparts of Resident Evil franchise: if the film versions don’t meet your expectations they’re most likely deemed to be a disappointment. But does that necessarily mean the film was bad or are we blinded by our expectations and being too dismissive? As a film-loving none-gamer I can tell you, for a film in its own right and medium, Assassin’s didn’t go completely down the toilet.
Convicted pimp murderer, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is officially pronounced dead after being administered lethal injection but it’s anything but pearly gates or fiery depths of hell that await him. He awakens and doesn’t know where he is or how he got there, and more to the scary point, who he is surrounded by.
In actual fact he’s been thrust into the hands of the enigmatic Abstergo Foundation, who use an unstable looking, yet advanced piece of technology known as the Animus to extract memories embedded in his blood to plunge Lynch into a vivid virtual reality where he’s forced to realistically re-live the memories of his ancestor, a formidable fighter and member of an ancient order of assassins during the 1492 Spanish Inquisition era. Why? Because the Abstergo Foundation are hell-bent on procuring the Apple of Eden, a bygone relic said to be able to control free will itself. Lynch’s ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha is thought to have been the last person to have the artifact in his possession.
Opening in 1492, then jumping to 1986 portraying a tragic scene from Lynch’s childhood, then diving into 2016 leaves viewers will a slew of questions before the film’s intro is even through, which is the case throughout much of the film until the final few acts. For a movie whose narrative revolves much around self-discovery and personal history it get’s let down by the fact that Lynch’s character has fairly little substance, given the limited attempt to flesh him out. Not much explanation is given as to how he went from being a tragic teen to aggressive criminal committing acts that warrant the death penalty.
That being said, Fassbender’s outing as Lynch is a powerful one. The mere fact that he plays both lethal Assassin Aguilar and frustrated Lynch so well is testament to his stellar acting. He more than convincingly depicts how terrifying it must be, even for the hardened Lynch, to be forcibly shoved into an unknown world where you have no choice but to submit and surrender to a scheming stranger organisation’s control and have no clue where you are or what they want from you.
Marion Cotillard, despite not having a very well-fleshed out character herself, doesn’t do too bad of a job starring as the Animus Project’s head scientist and representing the grey area in the starkly black and white world of the Templars (now Abstergo Foundation) and the Assassin’s Brotherhood who have been bitterly warring in the shadows throughout history. Seeing her confront her father, Abstergo’s CEO (Jeremy Irons) disagreeing about his methods of located the Apple of Eden and fiercely believe that she can cure all violence with it adds a needed dose of humanity and reason to keep the film grounded.
Then again, who goes to the cinema for a ‘grounded’ experience? The sleekly choreographed combat scenes played out in the dangerous background of fifteenth century Spain make Assassin’s a mesmerizing watch. Mixing time periods and eras up adds natural spice to any film that does it right and Assassin’s treats audiences to gripping and tight action sequences as Aguilar and his fellow Assassin comrade, Maria, tasked with safeguarding the boy Prince of Granada, encompass both Tarzan’s muse and the forefathers of modern day free-running as they leap daringly from building to building, nimbly taking on Templars, agile and disciplined, making the Spanish cities their playground. Bolstered further by a suspense inducing musical score, action scenes alone make the film impressive.
But the real gems lie in the thought-provoking message- the preciousness of the very thing many of us take for granted: free will and what devastating consequences would ensue if the sheer power of an organisation or person who wields control of it was ever realised.
With the lesson that freedom must be defended at all costs, Assassin’s is worth a watch regardless of whether you’re a game fan. The innate intrigue and allure of an elite and secret organization of bad-ass fighters who, shrouded in mystery, operate on the fringe of society in the shadows is surely a big enough pull-factor…