Instead of having one person do a review of this film, we decided to take after the game and battle it out in true Assassin and Templar fashion. What follows are two reviews. One by our team member Jennifer, who has no prior knowledge of the story or the game before seeing the film. And the other by team member Candace, who is a long time fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. So let’s see how their reviews measure up.
A Nearly (Pit)fall Free Introduction to the World of the Assassins
-From Jennifer (Non-Gamer)
Let me start off by saying that outside of hearing about the game from friends and watching the amazing fan-made parkour video (see it here), I know pretty much nothing about Assassin’s Creed. I figured out very early in life that I didn’t have the hand-eye coordination to play most games well, and so I settled for watching others and admiring their skill. Nonetheless, I always enjoy a good story, and the recent surge of video game based movies and television shows have been intriguing.
When I first found out about the movie, it was by watching a trailer in the theater while waiting to watch the movie I had actually gone to see. I remember thinking that it had an interesting premise, and the A-list cast didn’t hurt either. I have always been a fan of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons, so I thought I would give it a chance when it came out. So, without further ado, here is my (non-gamer) take on it. Please don’t kill me.
The Telling of the Tale
I would say overall, this was a 4 out of 5. Obviously, I went into this movie without the benefit of playing a single one of the Assassin’s Creed games. As such, I came in with fresh eyes, without prejudice or judgment on the origin story or parallel storyline. For the most part, I think that it was fairly well done; although it took some time to get all the names straight and connect the two halves together in a coherent manner, I think I had a pretty good understanding of it in the end. There were obviously some minor problems I had as a naïve moviegoer – mainly, I could tell there were some things I did not pick up on because of my lack of prior knowledge. For example, in the opening scene we see Aguilar being inducted into the Creed, but at one point he places his hand into a device and it seems as though his ring finger is cut off. There is no explanation as to the significance, and it does not appear for the remainder of the film. The recurring presence of the eagle is another one of those mysterious references that clearly had meaning but was not discussed. The science behind the Animus is a stretch at best (although that might be my medical background talking), and the assertion that only one bloodline (presumably Aguilar’s) survived the Inquisition while only Callum has a direct connection is contradictory. After all, if his ancestor had to get busy repopulating the Creed, wouldn’t all of those other captive Assassins also have the same potential memories and skill? So many questions!
Considering what they had to work with, I would say 5 out of 5. As I mentioned above, I have a great deal of admiration for all three lead actors in this film. Fassbender had previously won me over after watching his nuanced performance as the young Magneto in X-Men: First Class. Cotillard was wonderful as the unhinged Mal in Inception and deceptive Miranda Tate in The Dark Knight Rises. Irons and his magical voice has seduced me in multiple films and I would happily watch him perform a soliloquy about groceries if he chose to. That said, I have to admit that I felt like their performances were limited by the lack of meaningful dialogue and their character arcs overshadowed by the focus on action and special effects. Don’t get me wrong – they all acted the hell out of what material they were given. Fassbender again demonstrates his ability to portray the damaged antihero, with Callum’s initially reluctant transition from career criminal to a man with a renewed sense of purpose and justice. Of course, let’s not forget that he pulls double duty as Aguilar as well, and the fact that we almost never hear him say anything while still managing to convey so much with his expressions is a testament to his acting ability. Cotillard pulls at the heartstrings with Sophia’s psychological journey from the pleasing daughter to the disillusioned scientist, and none of us can fault her for turning to her darker tendencies after realizing her role in the turn of events. Irons manages to keep us engaged and curious about Dr. Alan Rikkin’s fanatical dedication to searching for the Apple of Eden and resultant glory in the eyes of the Templars, even though he is clearly meant to be one of the villains in this case. Although there are supporting actors that did their part, the fact that there was little focus on them makes it hard to judge their performances.
If I give it anything but a 5 out of 5 it would be an injustice. This was one of the strongest parts I think of the film, with beautiful landscapes, scenic flyovers of ancient cities, and stunning visual effects that keep the transitions between time periods nearly seamless. I did find that the scenes from the POV of the eagle sometimes were a bit nauseating, and I could imagine it would be even worse in 3D. However, the careful detail to lighting and shadows, shifts in perspective between characters, and choice of angles and speeds with which the viewer experiences the various parts of the story are pretty outstanding. I know that the costume and set designers must have spent significant time perfecting the look and feel of the movie, knowing that the game’s fans will pick up on any tiny inaccuracies. I would say the scenes involving the Animus are the most impressive, creating the impression that you are witnessing the ghosts of the past reaching out to those in the present through wisps of fog and filmy figures. The soundtrack added even more to the film, incorporating what I assume is the theme music of the game and weaving it into a broader piece of music that rises with the action and quiets during crucial moments.
The Art of the Fight
What would a movie about assassins with special skills be without 5 out of 5 action? Despite a very comfortable armchair to sit in while watching the film, I often found myself leaning forward on the edge of my seat and gripping its arms with every Leap of Faith (yup, I know what that is), parkour stunt, and hand-to-hand combat scene. I was exhausted by the end of the escape scene, watching Aguilar and Maria scale multiple buildings while fending off their opponents at every turn. Being Asian, I am always on the watch for a well-choreographed fight, especially when they mix martial arts into it, and this movie did not disappoint. I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers did not purposely make the Assassins the best fighters, and allowed them to get beaten and kicked just like everyone else. After all, they seem to like their weapons and gadgets, and being too skilled would preclude any need for them. I did feel there was a decent attempt to balance the action and the drama, even if in the end the action still won out.
Probably a 3-4 out of 5. There were definitely sections where it felt a little abrupt, but in general I was impressed by the timeline transitions.
Considering that I have seen a few other movies based on video games this year, I would say that comparatively, Assassin’s Creed held up pretty well. I felt like the filmmakers did a pretty good job with introducing the characters and appealing to the non-gaming audience, and failure to do so can be quite spectacular (I’m looking at you, Warcraft). I don’t know that I would watch it again in theatres, but I would happily stay on the channel should it appear on television in the future.
Final Grade From Jennifer: B
A Strong opener for Ubisoft and 20th Century Fox
-From Candace (Gamer)
I bought my first gaming system two years ago. The XBox One. But I grew up watching my brother play video games. I tried playing of course, but I always got frustrated very easily and gave up. The only game I was any good at was Sonic the Hedgehog. But I loved watching my brother play games that I knew I would have no chance at tackling myself. One of those was the first Assassin’s Creed. I’ve always been been obsessed with history, so I was completely sucked into the story of this game even more then my brother was. And when the time came that I finally bought my own gaming system, it was pre-loaded with two Assassin’s Creed games: Black Flag and Unity. And of course, I was one of many that bought the Syndicate on release day back in 2015. (I finally got to play as a female assassin. I could hardly contain my glee).
Needless to say, I am very close to this material and had very high hopes and expectations for the film. Not just for the story and the action, but for it to finally break the video game adaptation curse. Many will swear up and down that Resident Evil surpassed that curse, but I beg to differ. The bar has been raised high for comic book films and many gamers have been waiting for a
video game adaptation to do the same thing. So from the mouth of a long time fan, here’s what I thought about Assassin’s Creed, the film.
Writing: What a complex tale you weave
A solid 4 out of 5. As a hardcore fan of this series, I think I’m the only one that right off the bat, didn’t want them to copy and paste Ezio’s (a main character from many of the games) story into the film. I was ecstatic when they confirmed that wouldn’t be the case. I wanted a new character to lead me through the long standing battle between the Templars and the Brotherhood. In this case, we meet Aguilar as he is inducted into the Assassin’s Brotherhood at the height of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. I never had a problem following the storyline, but I can see where it might get confusing and maybe even a little kooky for someone not familiar with the material: the Animus. It’s a pretty wild concept, and hard to conceive only through words. However, I thought they did a fantastic job tackling the explanation visually as we watch Callum, Aguilar’s direct descendant, enter the Animus for the first time. This isn’t a film that sits you down and explains what is going to happen before you see. They drop the audience right into the meat of the story and we are discovering details as Callum does. At times the pacing is a little jarring, and I feel like there were other scenes written or perhaps even filmed that were cut from the final released film that would have allowed the pace to flow a little smoother, especially in the middle. But for how dense and intricate the storyline is, I was rather impressed with how they laid it out. One of my favorite things about the film is the choice to make all the flashbacks/memories of Aguilar in Spanish. It made it feel far more authentic and more like a film then a video game. As compared to the game, the story is a little different along with the purpose of the Apple of Eden. But they are all changes that were quite interesting and would make for an exciting trilogy. Of course they had to throw in a few easter eggs from the game to make us happy. My favorite was “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” The saying makes a few different appearances in the game franchise and to make it more of an oath for the Brotherhood was a nice little nod that every fan of the game can appreciate. Now that the basis of the story is laid out and we are introduced into this world of modern day Templars and Assassins, I imagine the writing of a sequel would be even stronger. There were quite a few aspects of this film that would set up a trilogy nicely, with the fight for the Apple and both Callum and Sophia’s journeys into the past.
Acting: Bringing the page to life
Another 4 out of 5. Considering the writers spent more time on making sure the storyline made sense, it took a little time away from getting to know the characters better. However, that being said, I think they captured a fantastic chemistry between Michael Fassbender (Callum) and Marion Cotillard (Sophia). Fassbender was nothing short of fantastic. It was exactly the man they needed, with his quiet and elegant ferocity, to bring a modern day member of the Brotherhood to life. At the beginning, he gives us a definite line between Aguilar and Callum. He of course, plays both characters. By the end just before the climax, Callum accepts his destiny and ancestry (with the help of Aguilar and his dead mother’s memories) and it’s as if the minds of him and Aguilar melded and are now one. It’s a truly lovely transition scene as Callum comes out of the Animus as not just himself, but a member of the Brotherhood along with Abstergo’s other assassin captives. When it comes to character development, the writers focused more on Callum. Considering this is the character who we are following through the story I was unsurprised. That did however result in the slightly flat characters of Sophia and her father Alan Rikkin, portrayed by the talented Jeremy Irons. As a big fan of villains, this was the one aspect of the film that fell flat for me. Cotillard and Irons did what they could with the little that they were given to work with.
Visuals: Eagle eyes on LSD
Strong 5 out of 5. The graphics and the cinematography are the true stars of the film. One of the most memorable things about the video games is the fighting styles of the Assassins and the game play. In other words, how the game is played, the point of view from which we see it, and what kind of world the game is set in. As we drop into the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, I immediately felt like I had a controller in my hand and I was actually playing the game. The looks into Aguilar’s memories were bright and vivid, whereas the present day scenes were cold and dark. The cinematography was exceptional. The long and sweeping shots through landscapes and fight scenes felt exactly like the game, but raised to a higher standard. I thought the inclusion of the eagle was a nice little touch as I felt it was a metaphor to represent the point of view of the game players. Some of the most iconic visuals of the game are when the main character climbs to a viewpoint and then we are given a sweeping camera shot as he makes a Leap of Faith. For me, the biggest risk about this film was not only the complex storyline, but the presentation of the Animus. From a medical standpoint, it’s an insane concept. But they came up with a very visual idea to present the Animus as more of VR on LSD that works beautifully on screen. It’s intense, jaw-dropping and constantly brought me to the edge of my seat.
Choreography: The Art of War
Definitely a perfect 5 out of 5. Remember when I said that the fighting style was one of the most iconic things about the video game? Well, the film certainly didn’t drop the ball making sure that was perfect. The choreography of the fighting in the game is fluid and exact. Of course you can do like me when I first started playing fighting games, and just push all the buttons at random. But eventually you catch on to the fitnesse needed to actually master the fighting style of each of the main characters in this game franchise. Paired with the smooth and sweeping cinematography, the fight scenes were marvels to behold, especially the free running scenes. I was almost out of breath watching the assassins scale walls and flip over large gaps between buildings as they fled from their enemies with an amazing elegance. They even included many of the most memorable moves: the Leap of Faith, the sneak up kill from behind with the hidden blades, and the eagle eye kill from above. It was nothing short of the most marvelous eye candy for the hardcore fan.
Editing: Putting the puzzle together
3 out of 5. The editing of the fight sequences was exceptional. Where they struggled was the scenes in between. At times I felt like an important scene was cut out that would have made the pacing a little less jarring. Or sometimes the scene lasted a little too much and could have been cut short. I blame the complexity of the storyline to why it was such a challenge to edit this film smoothly. Clearly, they had no issue making the fight scenes dynamic and intense. Despite the lower score, the lack of fitnesse in the editing room doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the film. Everything in the action sequences makes up for the character filled scenes that the film slightly lacks in.
Overall, I’m not a fan of video game films because of the curse. Don’t even get me started the downward slope the Resident Evil films have been on since the first one ended. Every time a studio tries to break this curse, it seems they find another aspect to fail miserably in. Seeing as this film hasn’t made near as much as it should by this point, the lack of proper promotion was where this movie fell the shortest. However, that is no fault of the filmmakers, but it is disappointing considering it gives an overall solid performance as video game adaptation. It wasn’t the most perfect game of the year, but it’s definitely one of the best. As a huge fan of the games, I was very happy with it and will definitely see it multiple times in theaters. I only hope that Fassbender fights for this projects and pokes at FOX constantly to make sure they do in fact move forward and make the planned trilogy.
Final Grade From Candace: B+
Source: 20th Century Fox.