My notes on the computer game adaptation Assassin’s Creed Justin Kurzel joins the ranks of young directors (eg: Colin Trevarrow, Gareth Edwards, Duncan Jones) vaulted from eye-catching little indie movies to the well-funded mainstream and entrusted with some media giant’s franchise. It’s a long way from Snowtown – a grim Aussie true crime story – to a starry computer game spinoff, and he’s added weight to a project that could as easily have been as disposable as the Hitman or Max Payne movies by carrying over stars Michael Fassbinder and Marion Cotillard from his radical, gritty cut-down Macbeth. Like Warcraft: The Beginning, Assassin’s Creed is its director’s most expensive, least interesting film to date – it’s entirely lacking in humour and equally bereft of sense, so it isn’t even fun in the way some of Paul W.S.Anderson’s gameplay films are. Like almost all game adaptations, it has an intricate, barely-explored-here world but stick figure characters and a join-the-dots plot.
First off, we get a thumping caption to establish the opposition between the Knights Templar, who represent forces opposed to human free will, and the Assassins, a bunch of violent folk who are against the oppressors and therefore by default the good guys. For those who don’t know the game, it’s already a leap to accept the assassins – those freedom-loving riflemen and bomb-throwers who’ve done so much good in the real world – as the side we should root for, but the villains in both the film’s time periods (Spain 1492, Europe 2016) are hooked up with buzzword baddies like the Inquisition (Javier Gutierrez is a sneery Torquemada) and a shadowy British-accented cartel (which boils down to Charlotte Rampling bossing Jeremy Irons about) which now favours consumerism over religion or politics as a way of keeping their boot on everyone else’s necks. Cal Lynch (Fassbender), who has murdered (well, he would say assassinated) a pimp, is executed in the US by lethal injection but wakes up in a prison-medical facility in Madrid, revived from death by Sofia Rikkin (Cotillard), who plugs him into a big VR rig so he can remember what happened to his lookalike ancestor Aguilar in 1492 when the assassins succeeded in preventing Torquamada from getting his hands on a McGuffin that looks like a used Phantasm ball (‘the Apple of Eden’) but somehow contains the DNA for violence (huh?). Given the one thing everyone – especially Ridley Scott fans – know happened in 1492, guess who Aguilar eventually trusts with the apple? And, yet again (pace Lara Croft, Dan Brown and too many others), an artefact that can only be used for evil is hidden somewhere that can be puzzled out by a global trek and solving a few mysteries rather than – say – dropped into the deepest part of that ocean blue Columbus sailed in 1492 from which it could never be retrieved and we wouldn’t have to go through this whole runabout.
In the flashbacks – shot in murkvision 3D – Aguilar base-jumps off everything there is and gets about in an outfit (and with abilities) that makes him look like an Amalgam Comics universe fusion of Green Arrow and Wolverine. In the present day, he lounges in tight white PJs and deals with trauma left over from an interim 1980s prologue in which his assassin Dad (Brian Gleeson young, Brendan Gleeson old) neck-stabbed his Mom (Essie Davis – who came a long way from being outstanding and carrying a whole film in The Babadook to smiling, getting out one line and dying here). The facility includes a bunch of other assassin descendant prisoners (Michael K. Williams, Michelle H. Lin), who get to cut loose in the inevitable trash-the-guards revolt in which those violence-loving and –spreading good guys heroically murder a bunch of uniformed extras. It winds up in London at the Knight Templar HQ with Cal showing up to thwart the apple-securing oppressors and Sofia standing about as if waiting for direction as to whether she’s a goodie or a baddie in the sequel – not forgetting a moment Londoners will like as Fassbinder and pals jump off the Oxo Tower. Yes, the kung fu is high quality (if overreliant on Wolvie wrist-blades), the settings are spectacular and I’d happily watch Fassbinder and Cotillard in a remake of Terrry and June … but let’s hope this is out of Kurzel’s system now and he can get back on track with something along the lines of Snow Town 2.