Decades ago at the dawn of a new genre, the Gods of Cinema placed a curse upon this emerging genre. Anyone who dared participate in this new genre, no matter how immense their talent, would fall victim to derision by critics and audiences alike. To this day, the Curse of the Video Game Movie lives on. The latest to befall this ancient curse are star Michael Fassbender and director Justin Kurzel with Assassin’s Creed, their film adaptation of the popular video game series. Once again, the Curse shows its unyielding tenacity as it engulfs the talented star and director, as well as anyone else who appears in the film, in one of the year’s most baffling pieces of hokum. Assassin’s Creed is the latest in a long line of failures, one that fails as blockbuster spectacle as well as simple storytelling.
The story, if we’re being generous, of Assassin’s Creed revolves around an ancient order of assassins who share a creed to protect the Apple of Eden, the year’s most wildly absurd MacGuffin, from the Knights of Templar who want use the power the Apple as a means to deprive humanity of freewill and provide order to the world. The film opens in 1492 Spain, Aguilar (Fassbender) is taking his oath to protect the Apple as other relevant expository dialogue is delivered in Spanish accompanied by subtitles. Then the action transports to Baja California in 1986, where a young child discovers his murdered mother at the hands of his father. The murderous patriarch dons a hoodie and tells his son to flee the authorities that are racing to the scene. Then the action transports to present day and Calum Lynch (Fassbender again) is imprisoned and about to face lethal injection in Texas. The lethal dose courses through his veins and then the convicted murderer is engulfed in darkness.
Calum doesn’t awake in an afterlife, instead he awakes in a sterile laboratory in Spain. Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) informs him that they’ve successfully transported him to this location where he’s to assist her finding a cure for violence. In order to find this cure for violence as a hereditary disorder (a bizarre notion that seems to give some sort of credence to eugenics, just another of the film’s many baffling decisions), Calum must enter a contraption that allows him to relive the life of his ancestor Aguilar and track down the last known whereabouts of the Apple of Eden. In 1492, Aguilar and his trusty sidekick Maria (Ariane Labed) must face down the armies of the Knights of Templar as they kidnap a young prince in order to have his father pay the Apple as ransom. The movie bounces back and forth between these two timelines to little avail as the movie unfolds in bewildering sequence after bewildering sequence. But this is all just an incredibly elaborate ruse to use Calum in order to secure the Apple for Sofia’s father (Jeremy Irons) and the modern day version of the Knights of Templar.
There really seems to be no reason that the story of Assassin’s Creed unfolds as it does with the action bouncing back and forth between 1492 and 2016. Had the screenplay credited to Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage had simply set the action in 1492 it might have some semblance of a coherent movie. As it stands, Assassin’s Creed is simply two half-baked concepts meshed into one indecipherable whole that is simultaneously trying to introduce its own bizarre mythology as bounces between its nonsensical timelines. This is a movie where the lead character steps into a large apparatus that is basically the most expensive video game console ever and fights past bad guys in some kind of new virtual reality experience in order to find a MacGuffin lost over 500 years ago. Just think about it that for moment and wonder if that sounds even remotely entertaining. If it does, you may be a part of the slimmest sliver of demographics – the audience for Assassin’s Creed.
Nonsensical plotting would be forgivable had Assassin’s Creed at least offered the basest thrills of thrilling action but it doesn’t even have that to offer. Justin Kurzel shows little feel for action beats, opting for pointless moments of slow motion amidst sequences of shaky cam and choppy editing. The plotting of Assassin’s Creed make it difficult to discern what’s happening with the story and the action of the movie makes it difficult to discern what’s happening visually. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw tries his best to craft a consistent color palate between the two timelines, adding some sense of visual coherence to the nonsense, but even these modestly effective flourishes are undone by some of the movie’s shoddy CGI, which is as consistently underwhelming as everything else in the film.
Each and every performance of Assassin’s Creed is remarkably wooden and lifeless, including Fassbender who is also a producer on the movie. Fassbender is one of the most remarkable actors of his generation and he seems to be sleepwalking through his would-be franchise starter. The only moment of the slightest noteworthiness from Fassbender in the movie come when he’s singing a deranged version of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” as he’s hauled into the time travelling game console. The rest of the performances are just as bad, especially the incredibly indifferent turn from the typically reliable Marion Cotillard. She seems detached from her character and the events of the movie in a manner of sleepwalking I’ve never seen from the actress before. Other excellent actors show a side of indifference that they rarely present on the screen, including Michael K. Williams, Brendan Gleeson, and Charlotte Rampling. As all the deficiencies of the film mount it becomes increasingly impossible to care about the events of the movie as even the actors can’t be bothered to show the slightest bit of care.
The Curse of the Video Game Movie is alive and well, and 2016 has taken two victims between Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft. Like Duncan Jones, Justin Kurzel is a talented director that has befallen this never-ending curse which continues to consume all those who dare traverse in attempting to turn the interactivity of video games into the passivity of movie watching. The bewildering construction and execution of Assassin’s Creed leaves it as a movie that is intended for…well, I really have no clue. Despite all the warning from the Gods of Cinema, there will still be more who dare to overturn the ancient curse. Before they attempt to achieve the impossible, they should heed the warning of Assassin’s Creed.