So I realise that it appears a little redundant to write a review for a movie that came out two years ago that little to no one saw or even remembered. But I got to watching the film a few weeks back and I’ve been thinking a lot about it recently. Not in a good way, more how you can see the failed potential of a song that could be great but they just can’t get that beat right.
That’s what Assassin’s Creed is to me; failed potential.
Now I’ve been an on and off fan of the video game franchise for a few years. Only game I played was Brotherhood and I was obsessed. It had everything I wanted and more; compelling story, great game mechanics, a character with my name- but above all else it was fun.
Now that latter part may seem silly to you, since you’d assume that a game by definition ought to be fun. But if you talk to any Gamer or even a reviewer, then you’ll know that most games just aren’t that fun. Sure, they’ll have great graphics and decent game mechanics- but often times they lack that allure that makes a game fun. If a Gamer is not enthralled then you’re simply sitting down and mashing your fingers on a bit of plastic.
Now although it’s true that the Gaming Industry makes way more money than Hollywood, it seems to suffer from the same flaws. Such as the vast variety of Games that are churned out every year that no one is really fussed about, the bleak and expensive content which will occasionally be replaced by a rare life changing game such as the Last of Us or the Batman Arkham Series.
But Games, like most movies, are by default disposable. The vast majority of them being soulless, over developed and downright boring. Even when there is a good Game it will eventually be clamped down and have the life drained form it by a never ending franchise.
Assassin’s Creed is in a similar state at the moment as far as Gaming is concerned. But of course Hollywood is the creator of such a sin, the sin being an overabundance of the plain- the forgettable. Now Hollywood has a pretty checkered past regarding Hollywood movies, all of them ranging from the God awful to the meek “Eh, it was alright.” So of course when they saw the success of Assassin’s Creed they decided to cash in.
Now it may surprise many who have seen the film to realise that it has been in production since 2011 when Sony bought the film rights from Ubisoft. By 2012 Micahel Fassbender was confirmed for the lead- and he was very keen to do it. Even became a Co-Producer.
It went through several different writers over five years, even the guy who wrote Logan gave it a shot but his work was swiftly rewritten by two other guys. There’s probably a good amount of scripts in the possession of Sony that we’ll never get to see. The reason that this production process took so long is because despite having a lead actor and a script, you need money.
Most movies aren’t funded directly from the cast or the crew, but come from Studios who in turn are receiving the money from investors. So from a business standpoint, if you want to increase profits then the obvious answer would be to make more movies- spending money to make more money.
So you’ll churn out a good few hundred films a year and while as a business this is a great idea, it’s not so much great news for the quality of storytelling.
You see, what Assassin’s Creed went through is a process often referred to as “Development Hell” in which the production of a film is stalled for extensive periods of time or cancelled all together. It’s stalled so that producers and investors could consider the financial benefits of funding the project and to make necessary adjustments to the project.
Seeing as most films nowadays are made in the hopes to appeal to a foreign audience then the script may need to be amended so not to offend the sensibilities of an authoritarian regime or cause mass boycotts in foreign lands. So for a good portion of time the studio forces these creators to wait in this development hell, make what they assume to be the correct adjustments to the project and then maybe- maybe– they’ll approve it for production.
So as the result of re-writes, director changes and cast changes- the film was set to be made. Honestly the only thing that appeared consistently from the beginning to the end was Fassbender himself.
So at the end of this wearisome journey we get a semi-decent and forgettable movie. So Assassin’s Creed is about this eternal war between a group of people hiding behind the shadows of history. One of them being the Templars, who seek to create a new world order where they control everything. The other is the Assassin’s Brotherhood, who are dedicated to stopping the Templars from taking over the world in the name of peace, free will and multiculturalism.
Despite most of their fights being held over land and institutions, the real goal for both parties is to recover an artifact known as the Apple of Eden. A device that allows the holder to control others. The Templars want it to rule the world, while the Assassins are trying to keep it away from them. The apple itself is a device created by an advanced civilisation that lived aeons ago but they’re never really addressed in the film.
So when the 21st Century arrives the Assassin’s are pretty much fucked as the Templar’s have evolved into the worst monster imaginable; a Multi-National Corporation. Their R&D division create a device which taps into the DNA of an individual and thus can access the memories of their ancestors. This machine is called the Animus.
So Abstergo (the Templar Corporation) has kidnapped this guy who was sentenced to death and plan on putting him in the Animus. He’s the descendant of an important Assassin bloodline and thus possesses the DNA of the last man who saw where the Apple of Eden was placed.
The film’s first mistake in my eyes was having the scenes that take place in the past (in 16th Century Spain) be portrayed in Spanish. It’s a huge step away from the games, who usually present these stories and characters speaking foreign languages as just speaking English with an accent.
An example of that can be seen in Ezio (Game 2-4) who spoke English in an Italian accent as if he were speaking Italian, because he was but the Animus was translating his speech. It makes a lot more sense in the game.
Anyway after a quick introduction to the Assassin order we cut to 1980’s California where we see a punk kid watch his mother be killed by his father and then he runs away. Thirty years later we find him on death row, for killing a Pimp in Texas. Although we’d like to think that most Orphans that watch their parents die at a young age end up becoming Batman, most of them end up on death row.
The Prison fakes his death and he’s handed over to Abstergo, who then presume to brief him on their purposes. They plan on stealing the memories of his ancestor, an Assassin living and fighting in 16th Century Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. Which basically meant that the King of Spain and the Pope created an army led by Cardinals to purge Spain of Jews, Protestants and Muslims- basically anyone who wasn’t a faithful Catholic was purged.
There’s a lot of potential in this film that’s wasted. There’s the protagonist, Cal, who suffers from hallucinations after going into the Animus. We catch a glimpse of his decaying mental health but it never really interests us. The scenes in the past are well shot and executed but it’s stripped bare of context and character so we’re literally just watching these dead eyed ninjas chase after random people on rooftops.
One of the more interesting things in the film comes from Jeremy Iron’s character who runs the whole Corporation. His mission is to use the Animus to find the Apple of Eden but his superiors don’t seem that interested. In their eyes they no longer need the apple. Throughout the centuries the Templars seeked to control the masses by Religion, Politics and now through Consumerism.
If that latter part sound familiar, it comes straight out of a Dystopian novel called Brave New World. In which the ruling class has been able to keep the masses at bay by distracting them with fruitless pleasures such as pornography, celebrity, movies etc. Essentially being that pleasure, by extension Consumerism, has dumbed down the masses to such a degree that they are incapable of understanding they are being oppressed.
In Fahrenheit 451 books were burned, in 1984 books were being rewritten, in Brave New World books were simply made irrelevant.
So this divide between the Templars could have made some interesting drama, between the traditionalists who wanted to pursue their quest for total control via the Apple of Eden and the progressives who wanted to spend their time and resources on more modern techniques of control. The movie does use this to add a sense of urgency to the fact that “We only have two days before the project gets shut down” but by that point the audience doesn’t really care.
The reason that the audience doesn’t care is because they’re being presented with these two dimensional characters. Some in the present, some in the past. The characters in the present are bleak and dull and the characters in the past are so stoic that they’re practically lifeless. A true tragedy since the story in the past has always been the highlight of the franchise.
A common criticism I kept seeing in regards to this movie is that basically what the producers have done is try to get a story experience that would expand up to sixty hours of game play and condense it into a two and a half hour movie. It’s an apt criticism and that’s why I think that TV and by extension Games are somewhat superior to films in being able to produce characters that the viewer is invested in; time.
It’s difficult to present a fully fledged out character in a short period of time. But if you had something like ten or sixty hours- then you are able to create an authentic connection between the viewer and that said character. You create an investment in the story line and by extension you create a fanbase that will return upon other instalments.
I feel that this movie would have made a good tv-series. You get a good, ten episode season and you could set up the characters (both in the present and the past) and expanded upon the lore for new viewers. But instead you get this bleak, movie that’s overwhelmingly forgettable.
It ends with the discovery that the Apple of Eden was in the possession of Christopher Columbus, who was a fried of the Assassin’s. That latter part I find hilarious because usually the Assassin’s allies are perceived to be the good guys of history (such as Leonardo DaVinci and Karl Marx) but Columbus was literally a rapey moron who though that the earth had a nipple.
At the end Cal get’s indoctrinated into the Assassins via the Animus, it’s a pretty good scene. He then escapes and assassinated Jeremy Iron’s character when he gets the Apple of Eden. They tease a sequel at the end but everyone know that this isn’t movie franchise material.
In conclusion, Assasins Creed is a well cast movie that offers little to no enjoyment outside a few action scenes and some a few thought provoking ideas that are brought down by a poorly executed narrative. There’s so much potential here that it breaks my heart to see it as so unbearably mediocre, in all honesty I feel sorry for Fassbender. You could just tell he was a fan that tried to do the games justice, but the studios spoiled it. As they are apt to do.