Hey everyone, back again with another review. Now you all remember how I talked about this film back before it opened in December and that I really wanted to see it? Well, we weren’t able to make it to the theater for this one, but it’s recently come out on Blu-Ray/DVD (am I the only one who still says ‘out on video’ when talking about new releases?) so we gave it a rent. So let’s talk about how it went. As usual, no spoilers here.
So in the lead-up to this film’s release, it really looked like we were finally going to get that video-game adaptation film that would elevate the genre out of the muck it seems to mired in. It was going to be that truly great film that would give us what we wanted from the game itself, but also be a good film as well. Warcraft hadn’t been able to win over audiences (in North America, at least), but we had hope that Assassin’s Creed was the The One.
For that, it aggrieves me to say that the result was more in the vein of this:
Let me elaborate. I’m not jumping on a hate-bandwagon here and trashing this movie just because other reviewers and critics have done the same. I wanted to like it, hell, I wanted to love this movie. I was excited for it and the only reason I didn’t see it on the big screen was we couldn’t fit it in around the Christmas holiday. It also wasn’t in our local theater for very long. Suffice to say, this isn’t the review I wanted to be writing right now. But here we are.
I should have known from the beginning. One of the opening shots is a long tracking shot and it looks… well it looks bad. There’s a problem of dodgy-to-outright-subpar CG in several spots throughout the film, even with it’s around $125 million budget. Not all of it was bad, there were some really nice shots, but when it was bad it was pretty noticeable. The ‘prologue’ scene right after that shot is really cool. It was very video game-like and had a great look and tone. I really liked that part, even if I didn’t get as much out of it as a fan of the series probably did. It was kind of like the Joining scene when you play Dragon Age: Origins; a little mysterious and ominous and intriguing all at once. That brings me to one quick point: I know I probably missed a ton of references and nods to the games. A few of the bigger ones I got, but I know a fan would probably be able to tell you a lot more than me about all those fun little easter eggs than I can.
I can tell you the action scenes were pretty good. Kind of. The parkour Assassin stuff was pretty fun to watch but the movie had this really annoying habit of anytime exciting stuff started to happen, so did the cuts. We counted six cuts for the character to jump from a roof to the ground and take out an enemy in the process.
The number of cuts in the action sequences was egregious, to the point where it actually lessened the excitement of the scene because it was so noticeable and distracting. My kingdom for just one long take during a fight scene!
If this film had anything going for it, it was its cast. On paper, it seemed perfect. Popular, well-loved franchise with an Oscar caliber cast. And it’s not as if the cast was bad, per se. Michael Fassbender is obviously the one giving it his all here, given that this was a passion project for him. Jeremy Irons was doing his slimy, bad-guy thing with odd hints of Scar showing up every now and again but it wasn’t exactly revelatory. Brendan Gleeson does a decent job in a role where his biggest scene is mostly exposition, but it’s Marion Cotillard’s Sofia that I really want to talk about here. First off, I might just have a bad ear for accents, but it felt like hers was inconsistent but again that could just be me. Secondly, I felt like her character could have been done better. Considering her arc and how she was treated by a lot of the other characters, I thought she was going to go in a different direction than she did at the end. I think it would have been a nice twist if she had. Considering how important she was to the story, she just seemed really impotent through most of it and I would have liked to see her take some control. What I thought would be a revelation-type moment for her actually went the opposite of how I thought it would, considering all of this. Of course, that was the second such scene I was wrong about. Fassbender’s Callum Lynch had a scene like that of his own, and while it did go the way I thought it would, the catalyst scene actually came later than the one I'd thought was the turning point.
In terms of the story, the plot wasn’t terribly different from the first game and part of the second (from the synopses I read) just with different characters and a few changed details. It is also very faithful to the games in one way, and it’s the one way that turned me off the series in the first place. I could not care less about any of the plot or any of the characters or anything that happens in the present. I know it’s part of the game mechanic and whatnot, but when I tried the very first game and started off with some numpty in the present, I was a bit disappointed. And to be honest, the characters in the present just aren’t that interesting. This mechanic works less well in a movie, where you are limited by a runtime far, far shorter than most games.
Neither set of characters, neither past nor present, got any ample time for development. That awesome female Assassin you see in the trailers? Minor spoiler, I have no idea what her name is. I don’t think they actually say it in the film. The other assassins in the present? Except for one, maybe two, same deal. You really don’t know much of anything about anyone. There’s enough story and development to keep the plot moving forward, but not enough to invest or make you care about anyone that’s there. Callum’s in the GLaDOS-like Animus (which was pretty cool, to be honest) by the 20 minute mark, so there isn’t even that much setup for him before he’s heading back into the past. There isn’t really anything to make you root for any of these characters or make you care about whether or not they live or die or if their respective missions succeed or fail. Because of this, and the way they filmed the action, it makes set pieces and stunts that are supposed to be awe-inspiring, like the Leap of Faith, lose a lot of their power. This is the biggest sin of the movie, you don’t get invested in any of it and it becomes just kind of dull. If you don’t care about anyone on the screen, there’s no reason to care about anything they’re doing. I just couldn’t get excited by the stuff the movie was trying to push on me as exciting because I didn’t care. The whole thing was also oddly colorless, especially in the present. Not in the DCEU-dark-filter way, I mean everything’s physical color. The building, the clothes, 90% of the stuff in the Abstergo building was a similar grey that all just blended together.
To sum up, this is not the movie that will redeem the genre. It’s not the worst video game movie I’ve ever seen, it’s not even the worst video game movie of 2016. You can tell that there was legitimate effort put into this movie to make it good and make it faithful, but the more I look at it, the more I see there just isn’t enough time in a two-hour movie to make that happen (at least not to the extent they were attempting here). At least in Warcraft, you may not have cared about the humans, but the Orcs were well-done and compelling characters. Warcraft also has the one up on visuals as well, the cinematography and the motion-capture was incredible. I wanted Assassin’s Creed to at least give me that, or if nothing else, just be a good time. I tried guys, I really did, but even Michael Fassbender couldn’t save this one. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t particularly good either, and that makes me sad. If you’re a fan and you want to check it out, by all means. You might have a better time with it and get all those references I didn’t. If you aren’t a fan, you probably won’t lose out on anything by skipping it.