2016 has arguably been the biggest year for video game movies, with the Ratchet and Clank, Warcraft and Angry Birds franchises all getting major releases, featuring notable cast members such as Bill Hader, Sylvester Stallone and Peter Dinklage. Unfortunately, all three of these movies have been viewed as flops, with each receiving negative critical reviews and poor box office sales. To cap off the year of video game movies, Ubisoft has created their first movie as a production company, with hopes of bringing the financial (and occasionally critical) success of their Assassin’s Creed franchise to the big screen. While the Assassin’s Creed movie also features a stellar cast and some impressive action sequences, it misses out on what made the games truly shine: a focus on creating compelling historical and modern worlds for the audience to get invested in.
Assassin’s Creed stars Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch, who, after losing his mother as a child, leads an aggressive lifestyle that ultimately lands him with a death sentence. Under mysterious circumstances, Abstergo intervenes with the punishment and transfers him to a prison of their own, where the two heads of the facility, played by Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, attempt to determine the location of the Apple of Eden through the memories of Lynch’s ancestor, the 15th Century Spanish assassin Aguilar. While the plot keeps moving at a steady pace to rarely leave any moments for boredom or filler despite its 2-hour run length, the cast of characters does little to entertain, with Fassbender’s Lynch displaying a wide variety of inconsistent personas with little story justification, and Cotillard and Irons’s characters rarely showing any signs of life or emotion despite the action taking place on screen. The supporting cast, filled up by an unusually populated Abstergo facility, barely get enough screen time despite the important roles they end up playing, leaving little motivation for the audience to get invested in them.
Perhaps the movie’s biggest transgression is how it portrays the historical and lore aspects of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The games’ strongest moments often came from allowing the player to absorb the historical world at their own pace, with enough time for appreciating both the quieter and historically accurate moments that sprang up through open-world traversal and story cutscenes. Meanwhile, the movie’s trips to the past are infrequent and solely focused on set piece moments, which, while occasionally impressive, leave little room for the viewer to gain anything from the unique and important time period. The lore of the series, while often overly-complex, is simplified beyond what is necessary for the sake of the movie, which not only breaks continuity from the games, but disrupts the presence of another of the games’ greatest strengths, the alluring nature of the mysteries and depth hidden within the franchise’s history-spanning mythos. Without these aspects, the movie is unable to fully connect with what made the games resonate with such a large audience, and is truly a missed opportunity both for newcomers and veterans alike.
The aspect of the movie where the games’ influence most clearly comes through is in the action sequences, with one in particular that features a variety of weapons, gadgets, and parkour moves that would fit right in with some of the games’ more climactic missions. The movie’s soundtrack, while fitting, does little to stick with the audience after the movie’s completion, but often stands out during the movie’s cinematic aerial shots, which are clearly reminiscent of those that occur after a player climbs their way to a viewpoint, but with little of the same reward or justification that made those moments so initially memorable during the series’ earlier entries. Additionally, the conclusion of the movie, while rushed, does open some interesting paths if Ubisoft were to produce another film entry, switching the focus from that of the Templars to the state of the modern Assassins, one which hasn’t been explored in-depth since 2012’s Assassin’s Creed III.
Much like Callum Lynch and his historical hallucination, the movie constantly feels like it is fighting against itself, attempting to sync up with the more personal modern moments of the original Assassin’s Creed game, the player-suited combat of Ezio’s games and the simplified lore of some of the most recent entries. Without any significant time spent in either the historical time period or with the characters themselves, however, the battle has already been lost, separating the movie from what made the games successful in the first place. While the well-choreographed action and imagery from the games can be enough to satisfy some of the more hardcore Assassin’s Creed fans, the creators of the movie should have spent more time in the animus in order to properly understand how fans and newcomers alike can be so easily immersed in the historical open-world series.