Assassin's Creed

*1/2

Reviewed by: Donald Munro

Assassin's Creed
"This film is not worth seeing. The costumes, special effects and a brilliant cast can't save it."

I can see why turning a well known series of games into a movie might look like a good idea: a lot of the design work has been done and it's been tested on a large audience; the games have a fan base which will boost the film's numbers, at least in the opening week; and the games company can revitalise a flagging franchise while picking up a few sales from its back catalogue. Historically these adaptations haven't worked well as films. Tomb Raider and Prince Of Persia being the best of them says it all. Assassin's Creed is another failure.

A video game is an interactive experience. As such, Assassin's Creed was about exploration and discovery, in terms of both the game world and the narrative. It required the player to plan out their actions: how to kill and how to escape, how to climb a building and how to move through a crowd. The mechanics that govern interactivity are bound up with the plot, the look and feel of the game and the tone of game-play. There are elements within games that have no real analogue in film. For example, motifs with affordance, such as the eagles in Assassin's Creed, provide the player with an idea of how or when to use an object within the game world. When shovelled into a film they lose their purpose; they are only there to say look, you're watching a film of this game.

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Computer games are expansive - with the exception of games like Thirty Flights Of Loving you can expect anywhere between 20 and 100 hours of play. If you stop to look at the scenery, the first in the Assassin's Creed series could easily take 50, longer if you're playing the director's cut. A lot has to be cut in order for a game to be compacted down into a two hour film. With Assassin's Creed it is depth that is cut. What remain are the superficial aspects of the games.

In Assassin's Creed a device known as an animus is used to allow a subject to access genetic memories of past lives and relive them in a virtual environment. The animus is the latest development in an age old struggle between the Knights Templar and the Assassins. By delving into the past, both sides hope to acquire mystical knowledge and an ancient artefact, the Apple of Eden, in order to shape Mankind's destiny. In the film, the animus is located in a research facility owned by Abstergo Industries, a front for the Templars. Here they use the abducted Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) in an attempt to discover the Apple's whereabouts. Its last known location: fifteenth century Spain.

The film certainly looks like the games. The settings are well realised, it has the costumes, the cityscapes, the free-running and all the right weaponry. Up to a point, it handles the long action sequences that crop up in the game when things don't go according to plan. When the action looks like it is becoming difficult to choreograph, the film cuts back to the present, showing us Cal fighting blurred figures in the animus.

The film doesn't sound like the games. The dialogue is clunky and contorted. It sounds search engine optimised. Keywords and phrases are dropped all over the place. Many are meaningless without prior knowledge of the game: animus; leap of faith; assassin; desynchronise; nothing is true, everything is permitted; creed. I'm honestly not sure that the writers even know what creed means. Nothing of of the Assassins' Gnostic leanings or Ismaili origins makes it into the script. One of the tenets of the creed, "nothing is true, everything is permitted," had multiple meanings within the games. When combined with "We work in the dark, to serve the light" it spoke to moral relativism, committing the unconscionable in service of a greater good. When combined with the leap of faith it is about Existential Crisis, often described as standing on the edge of a cliff fearing that you will fall but realising that there is nothing to stop you from jumping. On its own it is about the illusory nature of reality and the immortal soul trapped in the mundane. Free of physical constraint, the mind defines the world, thought becomes form, which is exactly what is happening in the animus. None of this is in the movie. An eviscerating knife has been plunged into Assassin's Creed.

The guts have been cut out, the dialogue is bad, and without prior knowledge of the games the plot is confusing. This film is not worth seeing. The costumes, special effects and a brilliant cast can't save it. It must be possible to make a good adaptation of a video game, but until the source is respected as a work of art this isn't going to happen.

Reviewed on: 24 Dec 2016
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Assassin's Creed packshot
Two factions struggle for control of mankind's destiny.

Director: Justin Kurzel

Writer: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael Kenneth Williams, Denis Ménochet, Ariane Labed, Khalid Abdalla, Essie Davis, Matias Varela, Callum Turner, Carlos Bardem, Javier Gutiérrez, Hovik Keuchkerian

Year: 2016

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, France, Hong Kong, US

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