Review: ‘Assassin’s Creed’ Is Yet Another Failed Video Game Adaptation
Title: Assassin’s Creed
Director: Justin Kurzel
Summary: When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.
Hollywood has been trying to make movies out of video games since the 90’s and they don’t seem to have figured out what they are doing just yet. When they first started it seemed like it was more of a cash grab than any real fondness for the material they were adapting. Video games were considered silly toys for kids and hadn’t really achieved anything resembling respect. So Hollywood didn’t bother to try. Now video games have respect so companies are trying again. The Prince of Persia failed to me anything spectacular so now Ubisoft has stepped in to take control of Assassin’s Creed. This was supposed to be “the one”; this was supposed to be the one that video games can be adapted into movies.
Assassin’s Creed fails so spectacularly that it isn’t even a fascinating trainwreck as one that is just boring.
I’ve spoken, at length and a couple times, about how failing to understand the differences in mediums is why adaptations tend to fail. We don’t read a book the same way we watch a television show, we don’t read a comic the same way we read a book, and we don’t play a video game the same way we watch a movie. In this case we are talking about moving from an interactive experience to an inactive experience. The companies do not seem to realize this and they are so worried about alienating their very vocal fanbase that they don’t want to change too much. That leads to the scenes in the past in Assassin’s Creed; there is a chase through the city as Aguilar (Michael Fassbender) and Maria (Ariane Labed) that looks like something straight out of the games. There is climbing, running, fighting, but in the games the tension comes from “will I make this jump” and the skills involved. In a movie it means sitting there and watching something that the audience cannot possibly be invested in.
This is a fundamental problem with adapting this franchise in particular; the story takes all of the tension out in an inactive media like a movie. As we watch Aguilar running and fighting, and his ancestor Callum (also Fassbender) jumping around in the animus we know that Anguilar cannot die. The bloodline must continue for Cal to exist and this isn’t time travel so nothing can be changed, only experienced, which means you’re watching a character watch what is essentially the most realistic virtual reality game ever. The movie has been selling the past as the reasons to see the movie but the scenes in the past are barely there. Cal goes into the past exactly three times and one of those was released on youtube by the promotional company. The tension is supposed to come from the present but, as any fan of the series will tell you, the present is the worst part of those games and the movie isn’t any different. As we watch Sofia (Marion Cotillard) and Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) skulk around being the bad guys the script hasn’t given us a reason to care.
This is made all the worse by everyone in this movie looking extremely bored. The script takes itself so seriously that the actors aren’t given any reason to overly emote. This premise is absolutely ridiculous and a little acknowledgement of that could have gone a long way. Instead we’re stuck with a bunch of bored looking people fighting each other without any stakes in the scenes that are unfolding. For an action beat to work the audience needs to care about the fates of the characters involved. In the case of Assassin’s Creed you find yourself almost wanting Aguilar to come into the present and kill everyone just to make this slow, boring, mess of a movie end faster.
Assassin’s Creed was supposed to be the game changer (for lack of a better term) but it falls into the same traps that every video game movie before it. There is a difference between playing a game and watching a movie and until studio’s understand that we won’t get a good video game adaptation anytime soon.