Assassin's Creed Review: Not The Worst Video Game Movie Ever

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Most of the worst moments in the original Assassin's Creed game happened just after you finished a big, juicy, satisfying quest. "Congratulations!" the game would say, "welcome back to the bland, white, walking-speed-only world of The Modern Day." Assassin's Creed, the film, is a full 116 minutes of that.

In the game, Abstergo meant a boring sequence where you had to run (sorry, walk) around the lab for a while until you found a password for a computer, or looked at the right thing to prompt a conversation. To the movie's credit, its Abstergo scenes are a bit more interesting than they are in the game -- the problem is that there's just too many of them.

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A note on spoilers: I've made an effort to avoid spoilers as the movie doesn't release in Australia until New Years Day, but you should turn back now if you want to go in clean. I've tried to restrict talking about plot points to things you will have already seen in the trailers.

As you might expect if you've watched any Marvel, DC or video game film in the last few years, Assassin's Creed is not a standalone film but rather, a setup for a franchise. As you might also expect, it suffers because of this.

Assassin's Creed has a lot of things to set up in its almost two-hour runtime. Aside from all the backstory that has to be established for main character Callum Lynch (Fassbender), the film also has to detail the fairly involved history of the Assassins, the Templars and Abstergo itself, the Apple of Eden and what it does, and what any of this has to do with Michael Fassbender walking around in pajamas for an hour.

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Unfortunately, the adaptation seems just a little too keen to answer all these questions. In fact, many of them are explained before we even see Fassbender on screen, in a title card that lays out most of the tricky backstory. It doesn't leave you to figure out anything on your own, it just straight up tells you "these are the good guys, these are the bad guys, this is what they both want".

After that disappointingly frank title card, the movie actually gets off to a strong start, nodding to fans of the game series with Aguilar's initiation ceremony. The movie is visually appealing, even if they go a little overboard with the colour grade sometimes. Be prepared for a lot of teal and orange.

There's also so much haze added to the background of the historical scenes that you may start to think 15th Century Spain existed in a perpetual duststorm. You thought Game of Thrones had haze? Ha! Just wait until you see this!

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The production design is probably one of my favourite aspects -- it does the classic Assassin's Creed thing by taking recognisable design elements from the series and giving it a unique spin for the time and location.

Abstergo is similarly visually interesting -- it takes the stark white offices of the games and makes them actually interesting, even if the ultra-modernist look gets taken a little too far at times. Poor Marion Cotillard, playing Alan Rikkin's daughter Sophia, gets stuck in some truly heinous outfits to match the Abstergo aesthetic at times. Just try not to cringe too much.

This is not the Animus. Image: Supplied

The one thing I truly hate, out of all this interesting design, is the Animus. You've probably seen it in all of the trailers, and it's no less fussy, unnecessary and annoying in the film. It looks and functions like the most awful, over-the-top version of all those clunky VR treadmills, and Assassin's Creed just can't stop itself from cutting back to it over and over and over.

Aguilar runs across a rooftop -- look, Callum is doing the same thing in the Animus! Aguilar assassinates a random grunt -- look, Callum just made the same motion! Aguilar does a leap of faith -- yeah, you know what's gonna happen next.

The constant cutting back and forth between the modern day and the Spanish Inquisition not only interrupts the flow of the really-quite-cool action of Aguilar's missions, it also feels like it's talking down to the audience: as though somehow, an hour and a half in, you still haven't figured out how the Animus works. This is made worse by occasional cuts to Sophia muttering enlightening phrases like "he's synchronising!" or "leap of faith!" You know, in case you didn't get it.

The few attempts at humour fall flat, probably because everyone seems to speak in the same husky whisper the whole way through. Unfortunately, the moments that did have the entire cinema laughing were the ones that were meant to be serious -- shots that are so tropey you just can't take them seriously.

I don't actually remember why this scene exists. Image: Supplied

Overall, Assassin's Creed really suffers from spending its time in the wrong places. The entire middle of the movie is a black hole in which I don't remember anything but one scene that was memorable for all the wrong reasons (you'll see when you get there).

Aguilar, Maria and the entire Spanish Inquisition subplot are criminally under-used in a film that centred its marketing around the 'welcome to the Spanish Inquisition' line. The focus on the historical setting and its various details is one of my favourite things about the game series -- so it's disappointing to see that so neglected here. The ancestral Assassins probably say about 10 lines in the entire film, more than half of which are some version or repetition of the titular Assassin's Creed. Hey, maybe they're just setting up for an Aguilar spinoff.

Pictured: Aguilar

The film's commitment to showing the 'bleeding effect' -- a part of Desmond's story in the games that I had all but forgotten about -- is admirable, but the time spent on it would definitely be better put somewhere else (hint: in 15th Century Spain).

Now I realise I've just spent quite a while listing things I really didn't like about Assassin's Creed, so I should probably point out that I actually didn't hate this film. In fact, I think I almost enjoyed it.

All the scenes set in the past were exactly what you would expect from an Assassin's Creed film -- really solid filmography following some even better parkour, fun action scenes and creative fight choreography. They do go a little overboard on the shakycam, however, to the point where it's occasionally futile to even try to focus on the screen at all.

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The movie deviates from the games a little by introducing Callum to a handful of other ancestral Assassins -- fellow detainees at Abstergo. The most notable of these is Michael K. Williams as Moussa, the descendant of Haitian Assassin Baptiste (who actually appears in the AssCreed Vita game 'Liberation'). Another is Lin, played by Michelle Lin, a disappointingly silent but undeniably badass Assassin.

As far as villains go, the highlight is definitely Charlotte Rampling as Ellen Kaye, the ruthless but oh-so-well-put-together leader of the Templars. Jeremy Irons isn't nearly as interesting as Alan Rikkin -- the only named character from the original games to appear. He seems to spend most of his time wearing Steve Jobs-esque turtlenecks and looking at things.

Maybe my brain went for a wander during the dull middle stretch of the film, but both the beginning and the end were surprisingly enjoyable. Just as you're almost ready to give up on the film, things finally start to heat up -- and not just because Fassbender takes his shirt off. But that's definitely part of it.

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You can just forget any of the prior scenes actually happened once you get to this point, and the last few scenes are just straight up exciting. You finally find yourself rooting for the characters instead of just wondering what the hell they're doing with their lives.

While it really, really sucks that this film suffers for the sake of setting up sequels, I have to admit that it did its job well. I want to see the sequel. In the end, the thing that excited me most about Assassin's Creed was the potential.

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The best way to describe Assassin's Creed is that it's the movie equivalent of the first game -- tedious, obsessed with its own concept, but setting up for a sequel that could potentially be brilliant. But whether the sequel will turn out to be the film version of the masterpiece that was Assassin's Creed 2, or if it will be a Unity-sized disaster… well, I guess we'll have to wait and see.


Comments

    So haley which was better, Warcraft or Assassins Creed

    Being second worst isn't exactly a badge of honour.

      Spoken like someone that has never watched an Uwe Boll film!

    So it's like The Force Awakens - masses of garbage that people excuse because I gets some pictured right and is setting up for a series.

    Kind of disappointed this review only talks about the two major leads in any depth with reference to what they're wearing / not wearing.

    Were you not interested in some of the middle because their performances weren't interesting or? Poor Marion Cotillard might get stuck in some heinous outfits, sure, but how is her character portrayed and played, especially with reference to say Kristen Bell's Lucy from the games?

      I've never liked Marion Cotillard as an actress. There's something annoying about her that just makes you wanna punch her in the face (as a figure of speech, of course).

        She always seems to have that smug "I know something you dont know" look on her face. And you dont quite realise it, so it niggles.

    I didn't have high hopes for the film sadly, the entire series can be summed up as squandered potential.

    It seems to be a running theme in game adaptations, they jam too much in, try to introduce too many new elements, focus on the wrong aspects of the original material and give fans little more than an over exaggerated wink.

    Just as you're almost ready to give up on the film, things finally start to heat up — and not just because Fassbender takes his shirt off. But that's definitely part of it.

    So, fan service is okay again? Or is the author allowed to say this because of her gender? I've never taken exception to this form of talk before, but Kotaku wants to have its cake and eat it.
    If I did an X-Men Apocalypse review and touched upon my enjoyment of Psylocke's breasts, it'd be mortifying.

    Probably shoulda left that shit out. It wasn't humourous or particularly clever anyway.

      Gotta say it like it is honestly, and it is the truth isn't it. If there were a male reviewer who said "the movie started to get good once Jennifer Lawrence's chest came out..." it'd be jumped upon like noones business. So fair call.

      Last edited 30/12/16 3:08 pm

        Yup. I hated even posting that, but I read way too much bandwagon PC views on Kotaku that have nil basis to exist. They are their so the author can outwardly come to grips with what morals society is making them integrate into their craft.

          I get it. I don't jump on that bandwagon myself, I usually jump out of the road when it rolls by honestly. But, fairs fair. Hayley writes good articles generally, and as Alex says below, I don't associate her with articles such as Hernandez and co. but there's the occasional little bits that people should challenge that at the end of the day, can make a better writer, or a more controversial one? Which can both in the end be the same thing?

        That's a touch far. It's a joke, not a comment on fan service more broadly, and I think people might be conflating some of the work written by Cecilia and Patricia from the US with Hayley. It's a tricky spot; everyone is entitled to their own views and senses of humour, but people don't always read with that in mind and it results in some mixed expectations.

        I think, for what it's worth, that can always be hashed out with a chat in the comments though. People here are pretty reasonable, all things considered.

          I'm sorry but from an analytical point of view it's not a touch too far, and the written word unfortunately doesn't convey what people intend, which sucks at times. When making a comment such as a movie gets better when a shirt comes off, if it were said in context of a female, the shit would hit the fan. While I admit too, that the intent isn't there on Hayley's part at all and quite frankly I'm not exactly gonna blow it out to some mythological issue, it is fair to observe it would be jumped on in a huge way if it were spun around the other way. But either way, people are generally fair around here and I appreciate your points :)

          That being said, Hayley should never be censored by any means, should be free to say what she wants (the media should never be censored after all) and even I, as a straight man can say Fassbender is hot as f*ck with his shirt off and I envy the guys physique lol. :P

          Last edited 30/12/16 3:42 pm

            The moral of the discussion is that everyone should get their tops off

          I feel the context of the joke (which was admittedly lame) out of place on a site that has started to take a swing at fan service and gender roles. The conflation you speak of seems to be grouping the authors and their articles based on gender, which is a shitty thing to do. At the end of the day, it was ONE line of the article, but I'm starting to see cracks in the site's identity based upon not wanting to offend or articles styled to be pre-emptively PC.
          I bet when I read the current "DOA isn't just about boobs" article, I'm going to be similarly faced with a man lying to himself over a franchise based on the guilt we all feel now for enjoying polygonal breasts in our yesteryears. I get it. Things change.

            The DoA one is not even a current article. Its got a bottom line of 'previously published in January 2016' but contains comments from February 2015. Its just a lame attempt at trolling at the end of 2016 by necro-ing a clickbait article. Hopefully, now that its 2017, people will get over themselves and let life be life.

            On the double standards regarding gender and toplessness, I was absolutely horrified to read that in Captain America, when Hayley Atwell reaches out and strokes Chris Evans' bare chest after the Super Soldier Serum sequence it wasn't scripted, or an intentional adlib, but rather the actress giving in to an instinctive urge to cop a feel which the director thought was funny so left in. Imagine the outrage if the gender was flipped and it was a male actor copping a similar feel of Scarlett Johansson?

    I don't really want to see this movie. The trailers look horrible. I'm not sure, it just... doesn't sit very well with me at all.

    God I am so fucking SICK of the orange/blue contrast! Orange and blue, orange and blue, orange and blue, every single fucking thing in the movie is either orange or blue! I think the art of cinematography is dying out- why bother thinking about lighting and shot composition when you can just throw a fucking orange or blue filter over every single shot?

      Blue and orange have had their moment. It's time for yellow and purple to take over.

    Computer games and Movies are quite different. In movies the plot is quite important as that is what you are following. In video games you are following your own learning experience.
    The plot, even though it can be can implausible in a movie, can be downright rubbish in a computer game and people will still love it. Did you pick the plot twist in Modern Warfare 2 when Lieutenant General Shepherd turned? Probably not, because it was the most ridiculously dumb thing for him to do. I didn't care because I just wanted to get onto the next level!
    Do you remember the plot twists in Halo? Probably not, but I certainly remember the strategies that I had to come up with against some enemies, then throw away strategies against other enemies, and tweak those same strategies for other enemies. It is these strategies and tactics, that you create and adapt, that is the story of a video game. This makes the stories of video games quite personal, as the story is an individual learning experience.

      Yes and no. While the plot is generally more important for a movie than a video game, there are games with good plots - just like there are great movies with rubbish plots.

      I mean... narrative games are built around solid plots. Gone Home, Life is Strange, Oxenfree, basically any game that Telltale has made - these all have great plots. Even action games can have great storylines (Half Life 2, Mass Effect, The Last of Us).

      Great movies with rubbish plots? Pick an action movie - The Raid is one of my favourite action movies of the last decade, and has a plot that can be summed up in about 3 sentences.

    There were a couple wacky things (including the dialogue that I felt was really choppy for about 90% of the film), but overall I liked it.

    Didn't like it at all. It's a hot mess through which I almost fell asleep a few times.

    Didn't care about any of the characters, did NOT like The Animus, or how they kept switching back to present day during the action scenes to show the main character performing the same actions as his ancestor. On top of that, to me it felt like everything moved to fast and things were just glossed over.

    It wasn't even halfway through before I was wishing it'd hurry up and finish.

    I hear Ubisoft are in talks with Netflix to turn it into a TV series. I hope it's true and that they can the movies and actually do it right.

    If you want to watch a good movie do yourself a favour and watch Passengers instead of this crap.

    As long as hordes of people are happy to shell out money for dull movies filled with explosions and superheroes and more explosions, Hollywood will continue to shit them out.
    Stop being part of the problem, there is a world of interesting cinema out there.

      How's the weather up there on your high horse, mate?

      Edit: Deadpool never would have gotten made if superhero movies weren't so in vogue, and Deadpool was fantastic. If you don't want to watch a movie, well that's your prerogative, but disparaging those that enjoy a mindless popcorn flick is a bit much.

      Last edited 03/01/17 11:51 am

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