Nothing is true. Everything is permitted
Assassin's Creed is a blast for fans, baffling for everyone else
Full disclosure: I adore the Assassin's Creed video game franchise. As such, it probably isn't much of a leap to say I thoroughly enjoyed Assassin's Creed the film, what with its stylishly gratifying action scenes, superhuman feats of parkour and nerdy, sci-fi pseudoscience, lifted right out of the games thanks to the participation of Ubisoft, the company responsible for both the development and publishing of the video games.
And yet, when I actually think about it, many of the things that make this film so faithful to its source material may also be the very reason people unfamiliar with the games may find it alienating. At it's core, Assassin's Creed (the film) is very much a fan-film. One with Hollywood-level production values, certainly, but when all is said and done, common cinemagoers will probably walk out of theatres with no real inkling of what the film is actually about.
To put it simply, Assassin's Creed (both the movie and the games) is about the literal and ideological conflict between the authoritative Templars and the free-spirited Assassins. The Templars, in an effort to create order and end conflict through absolute domination, seek the Apple of Eden, an artefact said to hold the key to free will itself. The Assassins, meanwhile, believe in freedom of choice, making them natural enemies of the Templars. It's very much an "unstoppable force meets immovable object" kind of situation, with the conflict raging through the centuries as the descendants of both factions uphold the conflicting creeds of their respective orders.
Assassin's Creed (the film) is told through the perspective of two main characters: angry death-row inmate Callum Lynch, and 15th-century Spanish Assassin, Aguilar de Nerha, both portrayed by Michael Fassbender. Callum, who is supposedly executed as the film begins, wakes up to find himself in the labs of the Abstergo Foundation, a Templar-controlled organisation that is dedicated to finding the Apple of Eden, lead by Dr Sofia Rikken (Maria Cotillard). To do so, Callum and others like him are strapped into a crane-like VR machine called the Animus, in order to somehow relive the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar, the last person known to be in possession of the artefact.
The film's painstakingly faithful adherence to the games does nothing to make it more accessible to a general audience. For example, how the Animus actually works (they say the memories of our ancestors are stored in our DNA... what?) is never really explained, and there is just the bare minimum amount of background explanations as to the conflict between the Templars and Assassins. The pacing of the film also travels at breakneck speeds, with almost no characterisation for anyone (again, besides the bare minimum). If not for the quality of the performances, I doubt the film would've really worked at all. Now, it needs to be said that the actors/actresses in the film are stellar. Fassbender, Cotillard and Jeremy Irons as well as the rest of the cast do the best with what they are given, and it actually does the film a lot of credit when compared to other video game-based movies.
That said, when the characters immediately seem to accept wildly outlandish explanations of pseudoscience/space magic with a straight, dramatic face (especially of the calibre of these actors), things suddenly become a lot less believable. It's a problem with pacing and script more than anything, however.
Another point of note are the "Regression" scenes, which take us back to Aguilar's time during the Spanish Inquisition. As mentioned earlier, the Assassin's Creed games have always been about stylish action and parkour, and the movie delivers on that in spades. Aguilar and his Assassin buddies scale buildings bare-handed and run on clotheslines like nobody's business, and the choreographed fights are top-notch. The camerawork can be a little hard to follow at times, but all in all, the movie delivers when it comes to action, something that will definitely appeal to most people.
In conclusion, Assassin's Creed is what you'd get if you gave a fanboy (like me) the resources of Hollywood, including some of its best actors, to make the Assassin's Creed film they want to see. It doesn't make for easy viewing for those looking for a more well-rounded movie experience, but at the very least it's a coherent, well-acted, well-directed film, and that alone makes it the best video game-based movie in recent memory.
Starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard
Directed by Justin Kurzel