Director: Justin Kurzel
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Khalid Abdalla, Michael K. Williams
Runtime: 1 hr 56 mins
Rating: PG13 (Violence and Brief Coarse Language)
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Opening Day: 22 December 2016
Synopsis: Through a revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar, in 15th Century Spain. Callum discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, the Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day.
Fans of the popular Ubisoft game would need no introduction to the premise of Assassin's Creed, but here's one anyway: the player fights on the side of the Assassins, a brotherhood dedicated to preventing the Apple of Eden from falling into the hands of the Templars, their opponent that aims to achieve world peace through controlling the minds of the masses. An original story set in this universe, the Assassin's Creed movie adds in modern day sci-fi elements to the on-going dispute.
Facing his impending execution, death row criminal Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) gets a second chance and a new life - in more than one way - when the Abstergo Industries 'saves' him at death's door. Forced into the centuries-old conflict between the Assassins and Templars, Lynch relives the life of his ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha, an Assassin during the Spanish Inquisition, through the Animus Project. As Lynch spends more time in the shoes of his ancestor, he inevitably leads Abstergo, a front for the modern-day Templars, nearer to the Apple of Eden, while battling his own demons.
It is no secret that the movie aims to appeal to fans of the games, especially with the repeated emphasis on game elements and motifs such as the soaring eagle and Leap of Faith. With that covered, the challenge is then to be to make money from the non-fans as well, probably through dumping (more) money on the CGI and sets, as well as the casting of A-listers like Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, who plays the Animus Project's lead scientist, Dr Sophia Rikkin.
Kudos to the studio - both methods kinda worked. There is no doubt that the world-building of 15th century Spain, and coincidentally, the backdrop for most of the fight scenes, were impressive. The viewer is transported into the heady and dusty streets of Spain, where de Nerha and his nameless 15th century co-worker and sort-of lover foiled the Templars' plans repeatedly. Call us picky, but to be honest, the repeated use of the soaring eagle going on the same flight route with different backgrounds is just lazy – if you are going to spend that much money, just re-animate the darn eagle.
As the protagonist, Fassbender was convincing as Lynch and de Nerha – two very different yet similar characters. While Lynch is anti-establishment and channels his violence into mindless and criminal pursuits, de Nerha is somewhat too rooted into the brotherhood, choosing to fight for the Assassins despite his own doubts. As the movie progresses, Lynch and de Nerha bleed into each other - although viewers might need to wait for a sequel to see more of that. Cotillard is less impressive but still good as Rikkin - someone caught between her family, the Templars' cause and science. With the arguably limited way her character contributes to the plot in this movie, a selling point for the sequel would be how her character grows into her role.
Despite the two leading characters' strengths, their chemistry is, however, rather dismal. The movie would arguably work better without the romance between Lynch and Rikkin, especially when all it consisted of was awkward, too-long gazes into each others' eyes, one-sided conversations and general distrust. Besides, a romance between a scientist and her lab rat is way too overused.
Which brings us to the script - arguably the biggest failing of the movie. If we had to pinpoint why, it was probably trying too hard to be witty and to build conflict in different parts of the movie. However, it never fully achieves either goal, and falls oddly and unsatisfactorily in the middle. Thank goodness for the cast, who did their best to work the weak script and not let the movie spiral into a joke. In our opinion, just reduce the dialogue and let the fight scenes speak for themselves - after all, aren't those what most of the viewers are watching the movie for?
There seems to be the expectation that game-based movies just suck money from fans, who would not really care about how good the plot, characters and script were. Perhaps this is true to some extent, but it would help if movie studios go beyond these minimal standards. In this case, good job Ubisoft, 20th Century Fox and the other movie makers involved, for the effort put into production and promotion. That said, we do not foresee this movie attracting much attention from non-Assassin's Creed game fans, who gave a smattering of slightly awkward applause at the end of the movie screening and reflected how we felt about the movie in general: A for effort.
(Not bad per se, just probably niche and unlikely to impress viewers who had no prior knowledge or interest in the Assassin's Creed)
Review by Goh Yan Hui