Video games and film adaptations never seem to mix. From the hilariously bad Uwe Boll movies to the haphazardly put-together Paul W.S. Anderson Resident Evil franchise, there always seems to be one if not more missing filmic ingredients in the transition from the interactive medium to the passive one. Whether it is editing, cinematography, performance or the narrative, there always seems to be at least one aspect that is tangibly lost and forgotten during the adaptation process. While it is hyperbolic to state that there are no decent film adaptations of video games—Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Final Fantasy: Spirit Within comes to mind—it nonetheless stays in the realm of the mediocre, the pedantic and most egregiously, the boring. And to the chagrin of many people, it appears that Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed film adaptation is set to also enter the annals of the second-rate world of video-game-to-film adaptations.
Assassin’s Creed tells the story of death row inmate Callum Lynch, an ancestor to 15th century Spanish assassin Aguilar de Nerha. Saved from execution by the sinister Templars, Lynch is then forced to participate in the Animus project, which allows an individual to relive their ancestor’s memories. By examining the past of Aguilar through Lynch, the Templars hope to recover the Apple of Eden—a mythical item that is said to control freedom of will. By their logic, they will end violence once and for all by eradicating the action of free will, and with it their sworn enemies—the assassins. While the plot seems to be in the same ilk as The Lord of the Rings films or worse, the Transformers series, it is most certainly one that does not shy away from the same sort of semantic qualities that both had—that is to say, uninteresting narratological catalytic devices.
But perhaps what is most disappointing about this film is its failure to live up to expectations. With Kurzel’s burgeoning career as a director—noted by a nomination-nod by Cannes for his well-executed adaptation of Macbeth—and its star-studded cast, many believed that there was a conceivable chance that this film would actually be good. Perhaps finally, there might be a film adaptation of a video game that is actually worth seeing, let alone critically championing. Unfortunately, this film most certainly cannot be described as one.
As a person who is familiar with the plot and diegetic characteristics of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, that set of information did nothing to save the film. From the messy editing to the poorly structured and paced plot, Assassin’s Creed is disorganized, lazy and what is perhaps most upsetting, boring. Which is a shame because one of the most exciting aspects of this film was that it was being helmed by a flourishing filmmaker. Similar to Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, both directors were relative newcomers to the big-budget Hollywood world, having made critically praised directorial debuts. Unfortunately, it seems as though Kurzel’s video game adaptation is doomed to suffer the same fate as Jones’. They are both bloated, dull and sluggish films that do a poor job of revisiting a beloved narrative.
While the performative qualities of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and the always-sinister Jeremy Irons are a few of the saving graces of this film, their dramatic bravado and skill is hindered by the film’s lack of intelligible editing and direction. It is marred by a Michael Bay-esque necessity to have an exorbitant number of cuts to one sequence, so much so that it is often difficult to follow the actions of the characters—let alone their motivations.
But while the action sequences are muddled and confusing, one redeemable quality is its incorporation of a few moments of stunning visuals. With sweeping panoramas of Spanish Inquisition-era Andalusia, breathtaking depictions of city landscapes and horrifyingly brutal showcases of post-Middle Ages warfare, Longtime Kurzel cinematographer Adam Arkapaw does a suitable job of instilling in the viewer with the reveries of flight—a central theme to Assassin’s Creed lore. But again, the use of such awe-inspiring shots is wasted on the audience as the connection between Lynch and these shots is all but lost save for a few sequences which speak primarily to the video game fanatics in the auditorium.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
The film is a lackluster attempt by Justin Kurzel to adapt the wildly successful Assassin’s Creed franchise. It lacks depth, narrative coherence or even in the most basic necessity of a genre film—the successful incorporation of syntactic and semantic filmic language. But again, the real shame here is to see Kurzel have to plop this unfortunate mess of a film on his resume, which before this has been studded with independent gems and a faithfully modern literary adaptation. Here’s to hoping that the talented director abandons this sinking video game-to-film franchise (which already has sequel buzz) before it becomes synonymous with his name and his filmic abilities.