Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Assassin's Creed

Video game movies get a bit of bad wrap. It is incredibly hard to capture the essence of what makes the medium great (the active participation) and transfer that to cinema (a passive experience). When I first heard about this movie based on a semi-historical game series, and how it would take place in the world of the games, not just follow the story, I was hopeful. But once again, there is a failure to realise what makes this particular game series so popular.

Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is a troubled man. He saw his mother be murdered by his father in Mexico and, after a life of crime, finds himself being executed for murder. After 'dying', he is subsequently revived by a shadowy organisation called Abstergo, who are doing experiments with genetic memories (the idea that the memories of our ancestors are locked in our very DNA). Abstergo has tracked Callum's DNA back to the Spanish Inquisition, where his ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) was a member of an ancient order called the Assassins. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) is in charge of the experiments and puts Callum inside an 'Animus', a device that allows users to relive the memories mentioned before as though they were really there. It turns out though, Abstergo is really a front for a group called the Templars, the historic enemy of the Assassins.

This movie is complete chaos. The only reason I was able to write half of that plot outline was because I have played the games. The story is a real confusing mess, as the audience is thrust into the film with a tiny little historical background to the two warring factions and their goals, but none of the technology that dominates the film. And that leads to one of the big problems of the film. The games on which it is based are split between a modern and historical storyline. This is not an even split however, as the majority of the time is spent in that historical setting (be it the Crusades or Colonial America), with the development of the modern storyline and characters taking a back seat (granted these add up over the span of five games and isn't something you do with a movie). But for this, there is an attempt at an even balance, although it tips toward the modern setting, with the only reason I can see being that it would be harder to make a historical action movie. Now I will say one thing I really appreciated about the sequences set during the Spanish Inquisition, is that they went all in and had everyone speaking Spanish. Too often Hollywood movies would just go for the easy English option.

Up top, I should say that the action is very nicely choreographed and the stunt performers worked extremely well. The only problem was that you couldn't see it. Now, the Jason Bourne series is known for very rapid handheld 'shakycam' shots that a lot of people don't like. It's a different stage of the movie making process that's at fault here though. This time it's the editing. Some of the action shots were so quick I couldn't keep up. At one stage a bad guy had a horse on a roof and I didn't even know how he even got there. It's no secret that Michael Fassbender doesn't like doing press interviews or promotional work for his films, but I've never seen him look so bored while in a film. In a lot of the scenes he has a rather pained look on his face as though he has no idea what's going on and I can't really fault him for that. Marion Cotillard looked equally confused, but probably at the fact that her role was so underwritten. The remaining veteran actors in the cast (Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling) are wasted as background filler and I had no idea what Michael K. Williams was doing in the plot at all.

This movie will turn you off if you're a hardcore fan or someone just wandering in from the street. I know it might be easy to point a finger at me and say that I overanalyse movies, but I truly came at this one wanting it to be good. Sadly, it missed out on being a solid action movie, despite the high amount of action.

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