Assassin's Creed Could Be The First Decent Video Game Movie

There has never been a truly good movie adapted from a video game. We, the gaming press, have been writing these ‘but wait, maybe this one’ pieces for years, but nothing ever changes. The movies come out, they’re universally terrible, and often don’t perform particularly well at the box office. So we all move on with our lives, having this time, we hope, learned a valuable lesson about getting our hopes up.

But… maybe this one will be good.

I can’t help but get excited about the Assassin’s Creed movie, even though some part of me screams internally whenever I speak up about it. This isn’t pure blind optimism in the franchise, but rather extreme faith in Australian director Justin Kurzel, who I sincerely believe is one of the most interesting directors working in the world today, and who I would follow anywhere. In fact, whether or not Assassin’s Creed is a good candidate for an adaptation is irrelevant to me at this point. Prince of Persia, Silent Hill, Hitman – those were all concepts with great potential to work on the screen, and none of them really did. But none of those movies were directed by Justin Kurzel.

Kurzel was the director of last year’s Macbeth, as well as 2011’s Snowtown (The Snowtown Murders in the US). His visually stunning take on Macbeth is a good indicator of Kurzel’s talent, his eye for scenery, and his ability to frame action in interesting ways (and two of the lead actors in that film, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, have followed him onto this next project). It’s gorgeously shot and brilliantly performed, a straightforward adaptation of Shakespeare that still manages to be unique and powerful. But it’s Snowtown that really has me excited about Kurzel’s output.

Snowtown, which is currently streaming on Stan, is probably the best movie that I refuse to watch ever again. The film loosely tells the story behind the Snowtown ‘bodies in the barrels’ murders, focusing on how John Bunting gained the trust of young Jamie Vlassakis, and eventually his cooperation. It’s a horrifying, uncomfortable movie, despite largely (but not entirely) steering away from graphic violence. It feels like a deep dive into sick minds, but it’s also very much a film about being trapped by circumstance, being born into the exact wrong conditions, about the suffocation of South Australia’s most notorious suburbs and how where you live and grew up can shape the opportunities you’re afforded as you grow up. It’s one of the most uncomfortable movies I’ve ever seen. It’s also absolutely brilliant, with a ramping tension and unease that is equally captivating and sickening.

These themes of being trapped by circumstances, of being isolated in a tiny community, are extremely prominent in Australian cinema. The characters in Snowtown are products of their environment, and while it may seem a long bow to draw, that’s a major theme in Assassin’s Creed as well. The Assassin’s Creed movie jumps back to the Spanish Inquisition, but will supposed focus about two thirds of its running time on the modern day. We’ll be watching Michael Fassbender, trapped by his own past, being forced to reckon with the burden of his bloodline. He’ll travel through time and experience a tumultuous historical period, but his modern-day character – Callum Lynch, a criminal rescued from death row – is surely going to have a hard time dealing with his continued incarceration.

I have tremendous faith in Kurzel as a filmmaker. This is only his third full-length film, but his track-record is spotless, and he’s saying all the right things. He believes in using practical locations, and is working with the best parkour experts in the world to film the stunts. He has said in interviews that Assassin’s Creed is “about belonging to something”, a theme he has already captured brilliantly, with horrifying results, in Snowtown.

People will argue, of course, that Warcraft director Duncan Jones had a perfect track record before Warcraft. But with all respect to Duncan Jones, who is certainly talented, his previous films had enough niggling issues and odd decisions built into them that I wasn’t surprised when he directed a critical flop. A CGI-heavy, lore-intensive film that tries to take on Lord of the Rings, made by the same director who looked at the ending for Source Code and said ‘yes, this is a good and smart ending’. There was always a high chance that was going to suck.

My main concern, I suppose, is that Kurzel might simply want to get a huge successful blockbuster out of his system before returning to work on smaller budget projects. His next film, The True History of the Kelly Gang (based on Peter Carey’s amazing book) isn’t likely to set the box office alight, and it may be that he wanted a bigger pay day before moving on. That’s possible! But I’m choosing to remain optimistic – even if it’s not brilliant, I believe that Assassin’s Creed will be good. Hell, I’ll settle for ‘honestly not bad’.

It’s hard not to have confidence in that cast, too. Michael Fassbender recently topped a poll conducted by my favourite film podcast, Filmspotting, which asked listeners to decide on the best actor currently working today. His performance in Shame is surely one of the strongest of the last five years. Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Michael K. Williams and Marion Cotillard do not make for a typical video game movie cast, and that’s a good sign, right? I’m holding out hope here; I’d love for there to be at least one good video game film adaptation that we can point to in the future and say ‘see, it can work, under the right circumstances’. It would be great if future video game adaptors had a single example they could point to and say ‘see, we actually can make a film that isn’t rubbish’.

This is the best shot Hollywood’s ever going to get, I think. If Assassin’s Creed isn’t good, I think we should denounce the video game adaptation forever. Justin Kurzel has his work cut out for him here, but I have faith.


    You mean other than all the previous ones plenty of people found to be decent?

      Right? Every movie based on a game that comes out "this could be the first good one!!!1".

      What is the standard they're expecting here? Marvel Cinematic Universe-level blockbusting? Because from what I hear that Warcraft movie wasn't a total steaming pile of shit. I'll even go to bat for Silent Hill and Hitman not being that bad. I thought the Dead or Alive movie was, considering the source material, bloody excellent. The Resident Evil games while barely reminiscent of the game franchise are pretty damn popular or they wouldn't have made a million of the damn things.

      I know popular isn't the same as good, but let's not pretend every single game adaptation exists purely because Uwe Boll found a German tax loophole that enabled him to keep finding funding for shit like Bloodrayne and the psychotropic nightmare that was House of the Dead.

        I actually really liked the Hitman movie. There I said it.

          I liked it too. In fact, I liked Warcraft too. But I don't write for Kotaku so I'm free to actually enjoy films. Seriously, this is getting ridiculous - Kotaku has become a sneering, misanthropic, joyless place.

    Prince of Persia was a decent enough film.

      Prince of Persia was good I thought. The original Mortal Kombat movie is also regarded as generally decent. Doom was passable as long as you were prepared to leave your brain at the door and take it for what it was. I also really liked Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Advent Children was also decent), and the two Tomb Raider films were also reasonably good. For what they are, the Resident Evil films are generally okay as well.

      Last edited 27/06/16 11:55 am

    "Duncan Moon" That would be Duncan Jones, who directed Moon.

      Hey, this is James - yep, that's an embarrassing typo! I'll get it fixed.

    made by the same director who looked at the ending for Source Code and said ‘yes, this is a good and smart ending’

    I....liked the ending of Source Code. *cries eternally*

    Are we going to have this article every week until the movie comes out?

    Warcraft is a success.... may be critically berrated by some its faults are not worse than Batman V Superman or Transforners with fractured story and over use of tropes. and it did gang buster in most markets.

    Why even bother asking this question? Kotaku will obviously hate it like they hate everything else lately. Also who the hell is Duncan Moon? If you want to complain about someone, at least get their name right.

      No. They'll hate it for the first week to capitalise on the potential hatred, but once fans start liking it, they'll shift there tone.

    I disagreed at the title... there have been plenty of video game movies I have enjoyed. I feel like kotaku says this about every video game movie.

    I actually enjoyed Warcraft. Psyched for a director's cut. The first Resident Evil was cheesy but that didn't stop me from watching 1 and 2 half a million times. Even the Doom movie - which was admittedly a miss for me - had a first person sequence that was pretty damn cool.

    To be honest the AC trailer didn't spark my interest. That and the music threw me off. But I will likely watch it before making judgements. If it is decent then I am all for it, but it certainly won't be the first video game movie I have enjoyed.

    Last edited 27/06/16 11:43 am

      It relation to Doom and it's first person sequence,

      you could check out the movie Hardcore henry it an interesting film and the whole movie is in First Person and Sharlto Copley is pretty great in it too

      Last edited 27/06/16 4:39 pm

    With the number of articles taking jabs at the Warcraft movie (or reminding everyone of shots taken in previous articles) the past few weeks, one might start to think Blizzard pissed in Kotaku's cheerios recently....

    Yeah... you lost me at the title. There have been a few already. Including Warcraft.

    Oh and the Snowtown murders happened in South Australia... which you seem to know, but wrote US initially.

    Last edited 27/06/16 12:01 pm

      FYI, he references the US because that was the name of the movie there, not because it happened there. Was just called Snowtown here, but was The Snowtown Murders in the US hence the distinction in case there are international readers or this gets cross posted.

    I don't want to come off preachy here, but is there any reason why the SF2 animated movie isn't considered a stellar video game to movie adaption? Is it purely because it's animated, foreign, and not a big Hollywood movie with a cinematic release? It personally annoys me a little that this one gets so forgotten.

    Also. Mortal Kombat, animatronic ball punched Goro makes your point invalid.

      So much yes. SFII animated is probably the greatest video game to movie adaption ever. barely anyone talks about it. I would love to see it on the big screen with a cinema full of fans.

      Mortal Kombat is still one of the better live action adaptations as well. Sure the relatively cheap sets let it down in places but who doesn't love the soundtrack!

        I happened to watch it again the other day with my GF who hadn't seen it before. She loved the cheesiness, she loved the fights, she... fucking... loooved the music... She found it unwatchable because of Christopher Lambert as Raidan... Haha I'd forgotten just how jarring that actually was.

        It was such a shame that the rest of the SF movies weren't particularly good. I don't think I've ever seen any fights as well put together as the Chun-Li vs Vega and Ken + Ryu vs Bison before or since in anime.

          SFII is only outdone by Jackie Chan in City Hunter!
          Although I prefer the cheekiness in Mortal Kombat to SFII, which was weaker without Raul Julia.

            Raul Julia was the only person who understood what was happening with that movie. Everything is weaker without him, bringing him up is dirty pool old man.... I like it!

    Lots of weird angst in this comment section.

    What James is writing about is the business of show.

    Disney/Marvel are only talking about or making Star Wars anthology movies or films about D-list comic book characters because of the success of the properties already out the gate.

    Hell, Deadpool was a fluke. Fox isn't ever going to say it bet on card-carrying X-fans to make that movie more profitable than Batman v Superman. Not with a straight face at least.

    The bean-counters in Hollywood aren't looking at the tripe (by comparison) you are all pulling out of thin air simply because you thought it was serviceable, they're looking at Assassin's Creed as the first golden goose of many golden geese, not the golden egg.

    I don't entirely agree with what James is saying, but from a financial perspective, it's pretty hard to fault his reasoning.

    If this movie does succeed, it will be able to claim the title of being the Iron Man of its particular sub-genre (or its Superman 1970 or Batman 1989). Jaws and Jurassic Park are also examples of big bets that paid out big time.

      If you're talking purely from a financial standpoint then the article is still wrong as the Resident Evil films made huge profits (even if most of them were never considered that good by the public).

      You actually make a very good point here.. One that was not made in the article. I feel this is your insight, and it's a good one. The article carried much more of the " all video game movies are mario bros!" meme about it. Look at this line towards the end "It would be great if future video game adaptors had a single example they could point to and say ‘see, we actually can make a film that isn’t rubbish’.". Really? There's not a single movie out there that isn't actual rubbish?

      So I agree with your point, it could prove to be quite prescient actually. It was not made in this article, which was unfair about some of the work that had come before this.

    Can't believe people have forgotten the masterpiece that was the Street Fighter movie.

    For shame people. For shame.

    Hey mate might want to go over and re-read your article, you go on and talk about Snowtown murders being in the US but make mention about the South Australian murders later on in the article. Thinking you need to remove the US component

    Kurzel was the director of last year’s Macbeth, as well as 2011’s Snowtown (The Snowtown Murders in the US)

      The film was retitled in the US as The Snowtown Murders. An italicisation like in this comment would make that clearer.

        Ah right was wondering where he was going with that, but you've cleared it right up for this simpleton haha cheers

    I keep getting confused about what the definition of a good video game movie is. Is it just that the movie is good or that it's exactly like the game?

      Whichever's more convenient at the time, right?

    I'm sorry, did you already forget about this article??
    I've seen it twice since it came out, and it's great.

    Prince of Persia is probably my favourite video game film, and one I happily share with others. The first Mortal Kombat (barring Sonja vs Kano) was good, Silent Hill was decent, first Resident Evil was loads of fun...

    Jeremy Irons in a game to movie film? Go watch the Dungeons & Dragons live action film again.

      You didn't like Sonya v Kano?
      Gimme a break.

        And Jeremy Irons was probably my least favourite part in that movie, I liked him much better in Discworld.

    piss weak website .. not afraid to throw their negative opinion around on their end but if you show a little bit of criticism about them they delete all your comments. TRASH.

      Is this an example of the kind of comment you consider "a little bit of criticism"? Because I mean, what exactly are you contributing to the discussion, man?

    I think he said good movie...not decent, not box office success, but a critically acclaimed movie. Why all of a sudden are people standing up and saying the tripe we've watched over the years is good? It's not. If tempered by your love for that particular videogame then sure, you may think it's good.
    But it's not really.

      I think he said good movie...not decent, not box office success, but a critically acclaimed movie.

      Nope. What he said was:

      I believe that Assassin’s Creed will be good. Hell, I’ll settle for ‘honestly not bad’.

      There's plenty of "honestly not bad" going around and a couple of "goods". Critically acclaimed is a bit of a stretch.

    Mortal Kombat is still one of my favourite US action comedies, and everybody should watch it.
    I can't imagine this being as good as that, considering Mortal Kombat has always had better stories than Assassins Creed.

    Kayne West doing music for your movie = I'm not going to watch your movie.

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