Kelly Wants to Believe in Assassin’s Creed

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Synopsis: Guy can go back in time via The Claw and find out secrets about his ancestry.

Welp, this movie happened. If you’re not familiar, Assassin’s Creed is a beloved video game franchise where your present day character goes back in time as one of their Assassin ancestors in order to ensure mankind’s free will and save humanity from the Templars, who want to instill peace by controlling man’s privilege to choose… or something like that. I tend to skip a lot of cutscenes. There’s parkour, colorful characters, cool weapons, and lots of ground to explore. It’s fun!

Many hours (cough- days) of my life have been spent on this game series and I believed in Assassin’s Creed from the moment it was greenlit. Really, I did. When everyone else was a firm, “Video game movies always suck!” I stood my ground. The games have some of the best potential elements to transfer to screen, both visually and storywise, with lots of staple moments, unique action, and interesting characters. It could be a great series. It could be a great movie that just happens to be based on a video game! Ubisoft was being ultra selective! Michael Fassbender signed up! Everything was going in the right direction. I thought to myself, “This could be the movie that makes studios take video games seriously.” Hope wavered a bit when Fassbender (like many people involved with video game movies) admitted he never played or even heard of the series before the movie came his way, and I was like, “Well, that story is screwed.”

They teased me and I took it back when they released this shot of the parkour sequence:

Assassins-Creed.jpg

I still believed, like the sap I am! We still had visuals, right? I can look over a mediocre story for good action and parkour sequences! I just wanted my Leap of Faiths and Kills from Above and oh God, give me all the hidden blades. Plus, that poster was HYPEJohn will be the first one to tell you- I’m normally the person who is all, “The game is an entirely separate entity from the series! Just enjoy it!”

I can’t do that if the movie is bad on its own.

Alas, it was unignorable- the story was so, so, so bad. It’s like they didn’t know if they wanted it to be action-adventure or an overly serious drama, so they threw all their ideas in the air and cleaned it up while blindfolded. I had a hard time following the story the way they were laying out the Templars and Assassins- I can’t imagine what a headache a non-player was having. There’s no sense of linearity between any of the stories and yeah, this is a movie that takes place across stretches of centuries but there’s absolutely no logic or cohesion to the way it’s pieced together. After a fairly interesting start about young Callum (Fassbender), we fast forward to present day where he’s now a felon and kidnapped from death row by Marion Cotillard, who rushes him through his background with, “So, Assassins killed your mother.” Then they just hook him up to the Animus (time travel device for you non-gamers) with, “Hey, we’re gonna send you back in time for a sec because your connection to this Aguilar guy is to our benefit. Instead of explaining the Animus and synchronization to you in an organized training sequence, we’ll just provide some color commentary to the audience as you’re getting assaulted by this violent piece of machinery. Here are these blades for some flair and you already know how to fight, right, because you were in prison? Oh, you also know parkour now aaaaand let us know if you see anything round and gold. But uh, don’t keep it. That’s for us.”

Yup.

There is so much unnecessary focus on the present day events and the Assassins’ timelines (always the better part of the games) become more of an accessory to the movie, which really wants to focus on the drama between Cotillard, Fassbender, and Jeremy Irons instead of the fact that this guy has a connection to an ancient society and he’s going back in time via The Claw as his ancestor. Do I need to ask what you would rather see more of? The non-physical conflict is the least interesting part of this thing! For such a great cast, oh boy, is the acting FLAT. Cotillard can’t seem to care about the script, Fassbender takes things too seriously as usual (seriously, the guy needs to just have some fun- you know parkour now!), and Irons phones home.

If the drama is the center of the piece, change your mode of exposition and unfolding of characters- like how Callum ended up in jail in the first place or more of Aguilar’s background and history, elements that would make us care about the plot and characters and cause us to be invested. All of this comes through in the middle of the movie or so and reveals meant to be twists come off as jumbled and anticlimactic. Key character or plot points that would enrich the story from the beginning come up almost as afterthoughts. It’s poor storytelling and doesn’t do the complexity of the game series any justice.

And visually, for all the moments that the games get right, the movie gets so much very wrong by failing to capitalize on those “ooh” moments. It really hurts me to say it. I think what makes this the most disappointing is that they tried. Like, they TRIED and it actually hurt my feelings to watch this movie swirl around in the cinema toilet: the costumes were intricate, the stunt work was fantastic, the angles and creativity of the shots were really getting somewhere, and the texture is all there, but then some executive got their hands on it in post and was like, “NO, WE NEED MORE SHAKEY CAM AND MORE CUTS TO MAKE IT HYPERFAST BECAUSE WE NEED TO BEAT PEOPLE’S SENSE OF VISION WITH STYLE AND LET’S JUST CGI THIS ANIMUS CLAW BECAUSE HIM PASSED OUT IS NOT FUN.”

General Blanket Statement going off that: the editing of this movie was terrible. There are some really great visual moments and stunts in this movie that I just didn’t get enough time to appreciate and it’s all too disjointed- exactly the opposite of the series. This movie should have been so easy to splice together. Just play a half hour of the second game and you’ll understand. One of the things the games do really well is that they slow down here and there, really letting the player absorb the environment and the abilities of the characters. Just a few visual staples of the game: while hunting down these viewpoints to synchronize the map, the player gets to the top of the building and the game pauses for a moment to take a nice, panoramic shot of the city; the fights generally end in slow motion to let you know you’ve kicked enough ass; any assassination from above is shown in the same manner. (Aaaaaand the movie chose the freakin’ hawk as their staple moment, which adds literally nothing to anything. They couldn’t even get Kristen Bell in a brief cameo or a reference to the game’s infamous glitches?) The movie outright ignores the series’s graceful wide shots and long takes that follow the player/character through the cities. Instead, we get quick cuts of shots barely a second long- so tremendously brief that they don’t even register, making the action sequences difficult to follow and sometimes painful to watch. Even the parkour was hard to follow and it’s just Fauxbender jumping and landing, climbing and leaping, from building to building!

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Make sure you enjoy all .247 seconds of this shot.

I’d like to say there are some silver linings in this- we get some brief glimpses of what this series could have been in the characters of Nathan, Roussa, and Lin, who seem ten times more interesting than Fassbender’s Callum- and that’s just their present day characters who get some really cool moments. They almost brought me back to the fun I have playing the games. Oh, fun. Where were you in this? For a movie based on a sandbox franchise that is built around adventure, exploration, and the free world, it sure doesn’t feel that way. Like, dude- you can travel back in time and go freerunning across the Spanish Inquisition! That’s cool! Where’s your “I know kung fu” moment? Where’s the “I just jumped off a 125-foot building and I didn’t desynchronize” moment? Where’s the “I’m in Spain and the fifteenth century- I should check some of this out!” moment?

None of it is there, yet I always find myself still believing in the greatness that could be Assassin’s Creed: The Movie and justify all of it with “It would be great if……!” I will never give up hope! Is it folly that I’m still holding out? Assassin’s Creed still has incredible franchise potential. I’m going to Script Doctor the shit out of this one.

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