When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.
Director Justin Kurzel is the latest to take up the challenge of a video game adaptation to film, a genre that has struggled in the past, and unfortunately, Assassins Creed is unsuccessful at breaking the trend. Kurzel recently directed the 2015 film Macbeth, before bringing this adaptation of Ubisoft’s stealth action game series to the big screen.
Assassins Creed beings with a short opening narrative to quickly bring the audience up to speed on the context of the film, it’s a familiar setup documenting the McGuffin being pursued by the Templars, and alongside them the Assassins seeking to prevent the Templars from acquiring it.
Those who have played the games would of course be aware that the premise of the film is not quite as simple as this, and the film follows suit as it quickly positions itself from a historical setting to a contemporary one while introducing the central character Callum, and explaining his role in the plot to utilise ancestral bloodline memory, to locate the McGuffin in modern times.
Overall however the plot receives far too little attention, beyond this conceptual setup, the story elements are spread very thin giving the film few plot points to focus on and the cast too little material to work with. Character arcs are virtually non-existent, the plot details are rarely progressed beyond initial ideas, with little or no time spent fleshing these ideas out or taking the time to explain the context behind the actions of both the Templates and Assassins.
There’s simply no real sense of purpose or context behind the actions of the characters in this film, the audience is asked to take everything at face value and to just accept this is how things are.
Beyond a hopelessly superficial plot, as suggested already character depth is entirely situationally based, with characters simply reacting to events around them as opposed to having any real backstory or sense of purpose (other than what is dictated in the opening narrative). Both Fassbender and Cottilard are giving their roles everything they’ve got to lend some dramatic gravitas to the film, while Jeremy Irons and Brendan Gleeson are simply underutilised and not given the opportunity or material to leave an impact on the film.
So, with the film falling short in its story and character elements, where does it succeed? The action, set pieces, and landscapes are all detailed, interesting, and engaging to watch. The film does an excellent job of lifting its action style directly from the video game series, it packs in roof top chases, leaps from the tops of buildings, and engaging fight choreography from beginning to end.
From an action point of view the film is highly engaging and entertaining, and the set pieces make use of both historical and contemporary settings with great effect, it’s just disappointing that this isn’t elevated by a more compelling story.
Assassins Creed comfortably nestles into the upper middle part of the quality scale of video game to film translations, it measures up favourable to many others, but mostly because the benchmark is so low. In an action sense alone this film measures up competitively, and is a fun experience that’s likely to find an audience, however it falls short in almost every other aspect.
I’m giving it 5 out of 10 stars, Assassins Creed will be released in cinemas around Australia from the 1st January, 2017.