For centuries, the Templar order has fought the Assassin’s Brotherhood for control of the Apple Of Eden, a mysterious artefact of unknown origin which supposedly contains the genetic structure of “free will,” the control of which could, in the right hands, eradicate aggression and violence from human nature once and for all.
In 1986 young Callum Lynch returned home to find his mother had been killed by his father, a member of that Brotherhood now evolved to become the Assassin’s Order. Without any chance to grieve, Callum was told by his father to run from the crime scene as agents of the Abstrego Foundation were closing in; led by Alan Rikkin (Dawn of Justice‘s Jeremy Irons), they are a modern offshoot of the Templars.
Thirty years have passed and Callum (X-Men Apocalypse‘s Michael Fassbender) is now a prisoner scheduled for execution by lethal injection, but through an intervention by the agents of Abstrego he “survives” and awakes in their secret facility run by Doctor Sophia Rikkin (The Dark Knight Rises‘ Marion Cotillard). She reveals that Cal is a descendant of Aguilar de Nerha, a member of the Assassin’s Brotherhood whom she believes was the last person to be in possession of the sought-after Apple Of Eden, information she hopes to obtain via the Animus Project which can access the genetic memories stored in Cal’s brain and reveal the hidden location of the lost artefact by experiencing the past life of his distant ancestor.
Like the long running game series on which it is based, the film of Assassin’s Creed is set in two time periods, the secret facility of the 21st century Templars and 15th century Spain torn apart by war, but here the producers have made the risky decision to reverse the relative proportions of those two frames.
In the game players spend most of their time in medieval Spain and return to modernity only during dull interludes, and as expected classical Andalusia has thrilling wagon chases, rooftops escapes and beautifully choreographed fights sequences having more in common with dance than unimaginatively whacking each other in scenes which will delight fans who have followed the games over the last decade, but too much of the runtime is spent in the present where the magic disappears.
The producers forgot that by shifting the emphasis away from the exotic past it would be necessary to make the contemporary scenes equally engaging, if not through continuous action sequences then through interesting characters in exciting situations, but this would require the script to be more challenging yet it lacks all these elements.
It’s unbelievable that a team of three writers, Michael Lesslie (Macbeth), Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (collaborators on The Transporter Refueled and Exodus: Gods and Kings), could not find enough in eight games of source material to fill two hours and create a compelling and entertaining story which could stand without relying on previous knowledge to understand and appreciate it. The opening scenes cueing the viewers to dislike the Templars and be sympathetic towards Cal and the Assassins, without development beyond those superficial allegiances there is no reason to care about the lives of these paper thin characters.
Justin Kurzel is an imaginative director who can be creative without being tacky as demonstrated with the visually stunning yet firmly grounded Macbeth where he previously worked with Fassbender and Cotillard, two of the finest actors of their generation who are wasted here in material which is beneath them, their inclusion an attempt to grant Assassin’s Creed an entirely unwarranted importance.
Supposedly a complex and conflicted character but displaying nothing more than layers of dullness, Cal’s evolution from sociopath to freedom fighter fails to translate to the screen, and lumbered with wooden dialogue about ethics, science and morality, Sophia is a femme fatale who is too rigid to ever be considered seductive, but the biggest disappointment is her father. A man who can be easily play the embodiment of evil, Jeremy Irons is nothing more than a menacing mannequin standing in the window; recreating his elevated vantage point of High-Rise but without significance or purpose, this role is beneath him.
The hole in the heart of the story is the mysterious Apple Of Eden whose promise of dominion over the “free will” over humanity feels more like a philosophical abstraction than something through which 15th century Templars to achieve greatness and power, although with Professor Jones’ infinitely superior expeditions having beaten Ubisoft to both the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail perhaps they are in no position to be fussy about what religious artefacts are available to them.
Lacking the high technology required to use it which won’t be invented for another six centuries the Apple of Eden seems anachronistic and unconvincing, a discontinuity which is never addressed, just dumped on the audience in the first five minutes of the movie with its deficiencies never revisited in any convincing way or, at the very least, overcome by distractions elsewhere in the film.
When finally the location of the relic is revealed it could have been anticipated that the grand finale of adventure and excitement to which the film had been building would commence, but instead the end of level confrontation is even more disappointing than what has come before. Joining the long list of video game adaptations whose deficiencies fail to delight existing fans and baffle and bore the wider audience they seek to court, any intention that the studio had to turn Assassin’s Creed into a franchise might better be considered honourable suicide.
Assassin’s Creed is now on general release and also screening in 3D