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.