Assassin’s Creed had the distinction of being the final press screening of 2016 in my neck of the woods. And, unfortunately, this action adventure sent the year out with a resounding thud rather than a bang. If it weren’t for the performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, Assassin’s Creed would have very few redeeming qualities. As it is, even Fassbender and Cotillard can’t overcome a story that’s a bizarre, topsy turvy mess.
Don’t even get me started about the big payoff that’s promised throughout the two-hour running time. It’s a cheat, a huge letdown of the sort that makes you angry to have invested any time watching the first two acts.
The film is inspired by the popular video game and is just the latest in a long string of disastrous adaptations. The story follows a murderer sentenced to death named Cal Lynch (Fassbender) from the day he’s administered the chemicals that will stop his heart to the day he embraces his family’s history and assumes a role as an Assassin. The Assassins were charged with protecting the Apple of Eden from the Knights Templar who wanted to obtain the relic in order to take away free will…. or something of the sort. Apparently, Cal’s DNA matches that of the Assassin Aguilar who hid the Apple of Eden, and that’s why Cal was saved on the day of his execution by modern-day Templars.
Cal’s held in a facility with other Assassins and forced to endure a procedure that includes being hooked up to a one-armed machine called an Animus. The procedure, administered by Sofia (Cotillard), connects Cal with Aguilar’s memories from 1492 and Cal actually relives his ancestor’s actions as if he was actually there as Aguilar. Sounds confusing? It’s not actually, although there are action scenes in which it’s hard to track who is fighting who.
Sofia and her father, Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), believe that Cal channeling Aguilar will lead them to the hiding place of the Apple of Eden. Sofia wants to use the knowledge to unlock the secret to aggressive thoughts and squash them, while Rikkin wants to use the Apple’s secrets to get rid of the Assassins and make people submissive.
If you toss aside the story and just let yourself become immersed in the action, Assassin’s Creed does deliver some truly innovative and entertaining fight scenes. There’s an extensive amount of Parkour used in the 1492 chase scenes, and in fact when the film focuses on that era – and on Aguilar (also played by Fassbender) – it’s fairly entertaining. Fassbender, who also served as a co-producer on the project, is fierce and fearless as Aguilar/Cal. And when he belts out a rebellious, off-tune rendition of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Fassbender demonstrates just how truly committed he is to the role. Fassbender’s Cal is far more complex than you’d expect, and Cotillard can always be counted on to rise above the material and deliver a compelling performance.
The ending leaves open the possibility for more adventures with the Assassins, but Assassin’s Creed should be a one-and-done video game adaptation. Fassbender can and should move on to better projects because Assassin’s Creed doesn’t deserve a follow-up.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language
Release Date: December 21, 2016
Running Time: 115 minutes