IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 115 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Convicted murderer Callum Lynch, forever tramautised by witnessing his father kill his mother when he was a child, is rescued from his own execution and taken to Spain by the Abstergo Corporation, which is the modern-day incarnation of the Templar Order. They’ve been trying to eradicate violence in mankind for centuries, and now they’re searching for the Apple of Eden, which is the key to human behaviour and which seeded the first sin. Abstergo’s head scientist Dr. Sophia Rikkin tells Callum that he’s a descendant of Aguilar de Nerha, a member of a secret order of assassins that for centuries have opposed the Templar Order, and conscripts him to the Animus Project, in which Callum is connected to a machine that allows him to revive Aguilar’s memories so Abstergo can learn the current whereabouts of the Apple of Eden….
A couple of weeks ago I finally caught up with Mulholland Dr. Why is this piece of information relevant to a review of the latest video game adaptation Assassin’s Creed you may ask? It’s relevant because for the first half of Assassin’s Creed I was probably more confused than during the notoriously ‘difficult’ last hour of David Lynch’s mind bending puzzler. At one point Michael Faassbender’s character, voicing my thoughts perfectly, cries:”What the f*** is going on”? This could possibly be because the film was cut by around half an hour just before release, and could also be because I’m not familiar with the games that inspired the film – in fact I don’t play games at all. Movies take up more than enough of my time and take more than enough of my money too. However I believe that I can still judge a video game-based film on how well it works as a film. In fact Assassin’s Creed is one of the better ones that I’ve seen; it does at times try to be a bit intelligent as well as delivering some very fine action scenes, and most of the cast all perform with considerable conviction. And in fact the story isn’t that complicated; it’s just that it’s not told in a very good way, with the first 45 minutes or so throwing concepts and exposition and names at you at dizzying speed. Imagine if the section of The Matrix where Neo finds out what the Matrix actually is was reduced to a minute or so?
In fact the shadow of the Wachowski classic hangs over this movie, which also bears some resemblance to the underrated Wanted, but an even bigger influence seems to be that of Dan Brown, which can’t be a good thing in any way, shape or form, though Assassin’s Creed is better than all three of the Brown-based movies and to my mind superior to last year’s big game adaptation Warcraft too which fell far short it what it could have been. By comparison, this film could be said to attempt too much, at least in the running time allotted to it, but that’s not an entirely un-praiseworthy thing to do, and it does also present an important question. If you could remove humankind’s capacity for violence, which would mean that crime would be considerably lessened and wars would not happen at all, would it be worth taking away free will? Of course the film tell us that it isn’t, but it’s obvious that the Abstergo lot clearly believe in what they are trying to do [they’ve already tried to enslave us through religion, politics and consumerism, we are told in one pointed line of dialogue].
Assassin’s Creed opens with the young Callum coming home from trying to do a bicycle jump to see that his father has just killed his mother. It’s pretty shocking even though we don’t see much detail, and it tells us that, despite its 12A rating [which really has proved to be a joke considering how wide the criteria now seems to be for it], this isn’t going to be kid’s fare, unlike Warcraft despite it having the same rating. Fast forward some years, and Callum has…well, it’s not really made clear what he’s done except that it was murder. It would have been nice if the screenplay by Michael Leslie, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage had gone into more detail about this, considering how much else it then proceeds to tell us at top speed, but never mind. Callum is about to be electrocuted but is then whisked away to a fortress in Spain in a very confusing scene. Hooked up to a machine that allows him to relive the doings of his ancestors, Callum soon finds himself transported back to 1492 where the Templars are trying to take over Spain and are ruling where they do reign with an iron hand. Callum is now his ancestor Aguilar, who is fighting back against this reign of terror and who soon gets to take part in a terrific chase sequence which has more than a whiff of the great Raiders Of The Lost Ark desert chase about it, though it ends with one of the most ludicrous rescues from death I’ve seen in ages.
All this doesn’t sound too bad at all, but it’s extremely rushed and it’s easy to miss certain things. The gist of it is that the Templars are still trying to take over the world and believe that by getting people to relive the memories of their distant ancestors it may make them reveal the whereabouts of the very thing that may allow them to carry out this world domination, though the Apple Of Eden is never really explained properly. By luck Callum is the last of a long line of Assassins, and back in 1492 Aguilar and his partner Maria are deployed to rescue Prince Ahmed de Granada, who has been kidnapped by the leader of the Templars, Tomas de Torquemada, to coerce Prince Ahmed’s father, Sultan Muhammad XII, to surrender the Apple. There are some awesome shots in the Medieval parts, where the camera swoops up and down buildings and over hundreds of people, though director Justin Kurzel and his cinematographer Adam Arkapaw are too fond of murky, brownish colour schemes and way overdo the misty look they give to the interiors. On the other hand around the middle of the film is an action scene which is quite exhilarating, as Callum and Maria, who have Spiderman-type wall scaling and gap jumping skills, fight off loads of Templars as they are chased all over the city. Kurzel limits the shakycam and gives us lots of nice wide shots, and even has some ‘real’ stunts going on rather than going all digital like so many lazy filmmakers do today. There’s one 135-foot freefall which is apparently one of the highest of its kind in some time.
Frequent cutaways to Callum attached to his machine are an unwelcome interruption [just imagine if we’d kept on seeing Neo plugged in as he was doing his kung fu], but generally the modern scenes tend to pale by comparison to the Medieval ones and the film seems to build to a climax which is then almost over before it’s begun, even though it leads elements of the story to their natural conclusion. Its emotional heart though, Callum being unable to forgive his father for what he did, is reduced to one scene which itself feels truncated. Reuniting with his Macbeth director and co-star Marion Cotillard, Fassbender, who gives the part his all throughout, does what he can to transit his character’s torment and emotional journey, but it’s not quite enough. The film always seems in a rush to get to the action, which is fine when the plot’s very simple, but not so much when it’s rather more involved and needs to be processed by the viewer. As is probably already evident, this film a pretty brutal affair, almost as if they’d shot it as an ‘R’ rated production but then digitally removed most of the blood. The fight scenes throughout are both agile and convincing, having the performers actually performing most of the action really paying off. Another thing I liked alot is that everyone in Medieval Spain speaks Spanish, and it’s even explained – though you’ll have to listen out for it – why Callum understands them!
Jeremy Irons plays the role of Alan Rikkin, the CEO of Abstergo Industries and a man dedicated to the “perfection” of humankind, with depth, though the erratic Cotillard [sometimes great, sometimes not] is a tad uneven as his daughter Sophia who doesn’t agree with everything her father does. Her character’s “journey” is quite unusual. Jed Kurzel’s often deafening techno-ish score does help to drive the action forward but is extremely monotonous and stays on one level. When combined with the style of filming, it helps to give a music video feel to many scenes. As with so many modern soundtracks, a hummable theme would have been nice. Overall though, Assassin’s Creed is – just about – more good than bad and further exploration of its world – something that the open ending tells us will probably happen as long as the box office takings are good enough – is something that I certainly wouldn’t object to.