6 January 2017

Assassin's Creed review

At this point, I can only conclude that there is an actual, honest-to-God curse on those who attempt to adapt video games into films. It's not a shock that there have been a lot of bad video game movies - most of them are relatively low-budget flicks designed to take advantage of the brand name and nothing more - but Assassin's Creed, much like last year's Warcraft: The Beginning, had real potential. Director Justin Kurzel had previously worked with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard on his very well thought of Macbeth, so seeing the three of them reunite for this felt like something of a statement, a declaration of intent - and yet somehow, Assassin's Creed has still ended up being an entirely terrible movie, one lacking even a single redeeming feature.

Based on the video game series of the same name, Assassin's Creed follows Callum Lynch, a death-row inmate who is the last descendant of 15th Century Spanish assassin Aguilar de Nerha. Following a fake execution, Callum is held against his will by the Abstergo Foundation and used as a test subject in a machine that allows people to tap into their "genetic memories" and relive the lives of their ancestors - something that the Abstergo Foundation hope will lead them to the Apple of Eden, an ancient artefact that would allow them to control free will and "cure violence".

In a way, it's comforting to know that I've probably already sat through the worst movie of 2017 just three days in - it would take something truly special to remove Assassin's Creed from that spot. It's a failure on every conceivable level, a rare example of a film that is simply awful from the ground up, to the point where you have to wonder how it even ended up even being made, never mind attracting the talent it has. Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson - if this were your first exposure to any of them, you'd be forgiven for assuming that they're all terrible actors thanks to just how utterly wasted they are in their roles. But who can blame them, given the material they're working with?

It's the most poorly written movie I've seen in some time, a inherently broken story populated solely by characters sorely lacking anything even resembling real motivation, never mind a personality. Assassin's Creed naturally spends a lot of time jumping between its dual time periods, but the story doesn't jump with it - with the exception of a minute long scene towards the finale, the parts of the film set in the past have no bearing on the plot or characters of the present day. They are quite literally action sequences and nothing more, the result being that come the end credits it feels as if nothing has actually happened. From a story-telling perspective, Assassin's Creed isn't just flawed, it's completely inert - a fractured, stumbling, disjointed excuse for a narrative that fundamentally undermines any potential this film may have had.

And it's not even as if the aforementioned action sequences make up for that somewhat. If nothing else, any film based on the Assassin's Creed franchise should at least have some fun, exciting free running sequences and fight scenes, but any interesting choreography that the film may have once contained is nullified by poor editing and, bizarrely, a thick layer of smoke, dust and smog that lies heavy over any scene shot in the past. I can see what Kurzel was going for here, giving the two different time periods distinct textures in order to further differentiate them (the haze of memory?), but it also obscures the only potentially visually interesting scenes in the film, making what should and could have been a very good looking movie instead incredibly ugly throughout. There's just one good action beat in the entire movie - it's no coincidence that this is one of the few that is fog-free, nor that it's been used heavily in the films marketing.

I don't have an explanation for Assassin's Creed - it doesn't feel like a film butchered in the editing room (something we've seen a lot of lately), nor does it feel like a movie that went through a troubled production. No, the awfulness of Assassin's Creed comes with the feeling that this film exists as it was always meant to, an accurate rendition of what was intended from the beginning - and in a way that's worse, because it means that the people who made this movie couldn't see how utterly dysfunctional it was from day one, how badly the entire thing needed scrapping and starting from scratch. I decided some time ago that I was going to introduce a star rating system to my reviews in 2017 - how suitable it is then, that the first film of the year gives us ample opportunity to see how low this thing goes.

0 stars

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