by Alva Chua
A Film Review by Alva Chua
I’m not quite a fan, but I’m certainly familiar with Ubisoft’s game series Assassin’s Creed. Despite negative reviews, I wanted to watch the new Michael Fassbender branding vehicle for myself to find out how someone who had enjoyed some of the games might feel. Video game adaptations are a tricky business, and there’s something to seeing how they get adapted, which is often more interesting that the films themselves.
This is not the case with Assassin’s Creed.
There’s a bit of vague promise in the opening, in that there is little to criticize at first and the smoky lighting seems to have something to hide. Then characters start out curt and reserved, only to remain that way. Video games with less technical power behind their visuals tend to rely on starting with good-looking character models, built with faces designed to express the emotions they are meant to contain over the duration of the story. What they lack in the ability to act they compensate for with lighting and camera angles. Assassin’s Creed does this with competent living actors.
Worse still, the camera seems to cut away every time someone is about to emote. Fassbender’s Callum Lynch gets to look “Angry” or “Concentrating”. Marion Cotillard gets to look “Scientist”, and almost gets to cry for a split second before the camera cuts away again.
If they had somehow managed to squeeze some emotion out of the split seconds everyone seemed to get, the script would not permit it. Video game films can be full of the worst exposition and pointlessly descriptive prose and clunky one-liners imaginable. I longed for such things here. The Templars are a secret society that runs the world, and are dedicated to eradicating free will. We know this because Jeremy Irons and his superiors say this repeatedly, but never emphatically. There is no statement or sense of motivation, they simply say “We are dedicated to eradicating free will,” pretty much without inflection, over and over. Looks like someone got to you first, buddy.
Every other character simply makes statements that are descriptive of their character, or instructions to other characters. If you’re one of those geniuses who wanted Objective Video Game Reviews, here’s Objective Character Dialogue. For the first twenty minutes I thought that the protagonist’s catch phrase was going to be “I’m hungry.” because it was the most personal thing he said. I guess he really was just hungry.
The most spectacular thing in this film was how they managed to waste a close personal scene with Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender. Although if I was Gleeson I might have just punched Fassbender in the face.
Which brings us to the action. The action in Assassin’s Creed is just fine. There is definitely enough of it, and the Animus VR rig turns out to be a high tech excuse to show Fassbender fighting both clothed AND shirtless simultaneously. I hear some people like that kind of thing.
The complete lack of any character definition, especially in the historical sections, robs the action scenes of there intensity. I don’t know enough about these characters to care, and nothing is surprising enough for me to notice it otherwise. I don’t want to ruin any twists, but there is a surprising moment when violence breaks out in a facility that happens to be full of medieval weaponry that just happens to be lying around everywhere.
There are a couple of novel moments where you see crossbows fired from a first-person camera view, but these feel wrong for the setting, and echo mechanics that the source game doesn’t have. Seeing these moments made me think of Dwayne Johnson in the terrible DOOM adaptation, which added a feeling that video game films often have. That sense of being sneered at or patronized. I hope that Assassin’s Creed is simply a terribly dull film, and not one that has been stripped down and simplified to talk down to a perceived audience. Even the very first game in the series had more character than this.