Just one look at the cast list of Assassin’s Creed — including Oscar winners Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, recent Oscar nominees Michael Fassbender and Charlotte Rampling, not to mention brilliant actors like Brendan Gleeson — and you would think that at the very least we have a quality art film on our hands. Uh, no. Instead, we have Hollywood’s latest attempt to lure gamers back into theaters, an often head-scratching hodgepodge that, as I say in my video review above, is really just a Matrix wannabe. Yes, I will confess I have no idea what its video game inspiration is all about — never played it, never will — but I do have to say that strong production values and a couple of spectacular-looking set pieces make Assassin’s Creed more watchable than I had been anticipating based on the incoherent trailers.
To say it is marginally better than last summer’s abominable Warcraft is faint praise, though, and it is clearly made for the less demanding, action-driven international market.
The filmmakers, led by director Justin Kurzel, clearly hope they have a franchise on their hands because the ending certainly sets us up for one. But let’s talk about the beginning, which takes us to 1492 Spain, in the heart of the Inquisition, where we are introduced to “Assassins” involved in some murky goings-on that we aren’t quite sure about — yet. Cut to modern times, first in the ’80s where we meet Callum Lynch as a boy, but more importantly later in 2016 where Cal (Fassbender) is in prison and quickly executed. Or was he?
Cut to Abstergo Industries, the science company run by Alan Rikkin (Irons) and his daughter Sophia (Cotillard), who is seen hovering over a now-alive Cal. She explains he is needed, due to his own ancestry apparently, to shift back in time to 15th century Spain to inhabit and morph into the mind and body of an Assassin, the last known holder of the Apple Of Eden, a device that can possibly change the world — or so Rikkin thinks. They have concocted this time-travel device harness that enables Cal to leap through the air (a la Matrix) and eventually straight into jolly-old Spain circa Christopher Columbus era. This he does and immediately becomes engaged in one battle after another, including a very impressive sequence that sees him and several others leaping from building to building, a scene shot with great dexterity under Kurzel’s direction. This is far more interesting than the humdrum training sessions that a frequently shirtless Fassbender is constantly put through over at Abstergo.
Of course the plot thickens, as does the thuddingly bad dialogue, and Irons gets more demonic in his quest for the Apple. How ironic it is that Fassbender, after just playing Steve Jobs so effectively, is thrust into another film where an Apple figures so prominently?
What saddened me watching all of this go down is that a superior cast is wasted in pure hokum, though I am happy they are getting a nice paycheck so maybe they can afford take a cut on more challenging material next time. Fassbender, also a producer, has real movie star chops and effortlessly acts and looks the part that for whatever reason keeps requiring him to remove his shirt. Cotillard has a weird haircut this time around. Both of them were more effective in Kurzel’s Macbeth, but that movie wasn’t much either, although it cost considerably less. Irons is always a welcome presence, even in a one-dimensional villainy role like this. Rampling and Gleeson are marginally used but mercifully — for them — are in and out quickly.
Producers of the 20th Century Fox/New Regency release are Jean-Julien Baronnet, Gerard Guillemot, Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Conor McCaughan, Arnon Milchan and Fassbender. It opens today. (I caught it at the Tuesday night previews with a real crowd who watched it like zombies and filed out with no buzz once the end credits hit.)
Do you plan to see Assassin’s Creed? Let us know what you think.