Assassin’s Creed (dir. Justin Kurzel)

Posted: December 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

The “Assassin’s Creed” movie is a mess. It’s an ugly-looking film that contains occasional action sequences of stunning boringness while mostly spinning its wheels with yawn-inducing exposition. The video games weren’t exactly famous for having a great story, as the plot is pretty much a mish-mash of “Da Vinci Code”-esque historical and religious Illuminati-like conspiracies mixed some “Matrix” knock-off sci-fi elements, but that didn’t matter much when playing the games because they were largely fun. The enjoyment of the games came from doing missions in a semi-open-world historical environment as you jump from rooftop to rooftop assassinating baddies and talking to famous figures. For some reason, the makers of the film seemed to think that the games were liked because of their ridiculous mythology, involving two horrible secret organizations fighting for control of the world via obtaining pseudo-religious artifacts.

Rumors of the film taking place largely in the present were correct. While the bulk of the video games take place in a historical setting, with the present day action being relegated to a framing device, the filmmakers decided that staying in the present with occasional flashback sequences to the Spanish Inquisition would make for a better film. It certainly makes for a cheaper film, one assumes, despite those historical sequences being hidden in so much CGI dirt and fog that it looks like someone rode their dirt bike over each frame of the film. Our main character is Callum, played by the very talented Michael Fassbender. I have no idea why Fassbender chose to do this film, but since he also produced this film I assume he either really likes the source material or he simply was looking for a franchise he could star in and collect paychecks for between his indie and prestige film roles. If he likes the source material, I have no idea why he signed off on the script as it exists on film here. In any case, Callum is executed for the murder of a pimp. Why he got the death penalty for murdering a pimp, a sentence that indicates it was a premeditated murder and that Callum didn’t accept a plea deal to at least get life with no parole, is an issue the film doesn’t bother to explain to us.

Anyway, instead of dying he wakes up as a prisoner in a facility run by a corporation known as Abstergo. The corporation is really a front for an organization known as the Templars, whose objective seems to be to find a way to control the entire human race by eliminating their need/desire/ability to make their own decisions. This is called “free will” in the film, because I assume they have not read recent advances in neuroscience indicating “free will” isn’t exactly what we think it is. The film gives us a McGuffin in the form of an orb called the “Apple of Eden”, which is supposedly an ancient device that contains information that will allow the Templars to take the DNA for free will out of humans so that the Templars can control them. Why do the Templars want to control the human race when they already seem to be an organization of rich and powerful people who already control most of humanity through, the film tells us, religion and consumerism? The film never explains.

Callum is mainly watched over by a doctor named Sophia Rikken, played by Marion Cotillard, another actor way too good to be seen in dreck like this. Anyway, Sophia lies to Callum and tells him their work is actually to eliminate the genetic predisposition to violence, that Abstergo simply wants to end violence in the world with the Apple. Ending violence seems like a good idea, but I’m left wondering where that ends. Does that mean we no longer kill animals for food? Step on bugs? Harm blades of grass? What level of violence would be eliminated? I know Sophia is lying and all, but the blanket statement of ending violence by manipulating human DNA brings up more questions than this film can answer.

Abstergo has a Matrix-like device called the Animus. When Callum is hooked up to it, he can have a virtual reality experience of his ancestor’s memories. I wonder, if the ancestor is still alive, like Callum’s father, would Callum still be able to experience all of his dad’s memories, or just the ones that go up to the moment Callum was conceived? I mean, the idea that all of your ancestors’ memories are in your DNA is ludicrous as it is, but the questions this film brings up (admittedly, many from the games) immediately show how ridiculous this whole thing is.

So Abstergo makes Callum experience an ancestor who lived in the 1400s during the Inquisition, Aguilar. Aguilar was the last person in history known to possess the Apple, so Abstergo/the Templars want to use Callum to unlock the memory of where Aguilar left the Apple so they can go retrieve it and begin their evil scheme for even more world domination than they already have.

Aguilar, however, was the member of another super secret organization known as the Brotherhood of Assassins. The film wants us to believe this group are the good guys, but when their Creed contains nuggets like “nothing is true” and “everything is permitted”, it sounds more like the kind of crap you hear from 14-year-old Libertarians who post on 4chan. The Assassins seem to prize free will above all else, but when you don’t believe in an objective, material truth and have no morality to speak of beyond a single ideal, I can’t really see you as the good guys of anything. So, when a film is about a war between assholes and super-assholes, I’m left rooting that both groups will just wipe each other out and leave the world be. Indifference to which side wins does not make for a very fun movie-going experience.

When the film takes us to the Aguilar sequences, we see some dull, rudimentary hand-to-hand combat with wrist-knives that are barely visible under dirt-brown color effects and a constant dust storm. When we’re in the present, we see Callum in an ugly blue-tinted sterile prison with other prisoners worried he’ll turn to Abstergo’s side, and Abstergo staff looking evil and ready to do evil crap. When Callum is hooked up to the Animus, we have unnecessary cuts to him fighting holograms to disrupt the flow of scenes that take place in the past. Honestly, I spent most of the film fighting off the desire to fall asleep.

Jeremy Irons is also in this film, as Sophia’s father and the CEO of Abstergo, and not since the ill-fated “Dungeons & Dragons” movie has Irons had a reason to be this embarrassed by his career choices. Why and how did so many talented actors wind up in this mess? Why did director Justin Kurzel go out of his way to make this film look as ugly and displeasing to the eye as he could make it? Why did the THREE credited screenwriters think audiences wanted to see an “Assassin’s Creed” film that is at least 75% if not more set in the present day?

At least all of the characters actually speak Spanish in the scenes set in Spain. That’s something. I know live action video game adaptations are known for how much they suck (“Mortal Kombat”, “Resident Evil”, et. al.) but with the pedigree in front of the camera it seemed like maybe, just maybe, “Assassin’s Creed” could have been the first decent one. Instead, we have another video game film that doesn’t understand what people like about the games, is photographed in a manner that is downright ugly, has action sequences lacking in all areas, and a story that is just plain boring and abysmal. What the hell was everyone thinking? D


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