The title of First Great Video Game Movie is still on the table. As much as I have a soft spot for the Jean-Claude Van Damme Street Fighter: The Movie and the later Resident Evil sequels, no one has made a great movie based on a video game, not even Assassin’s Creed. It’s getting ridiculous. It’s been 23 years since Super Mario Brothers. Someone should have gotten it right by now.
Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is executed by lethal injection, but really Dr. Sophia Riken (Marion Cotillard) took him to participate in her experiments. She hooks him up to the Animus where Cal can experience his ancestor Aguilar in 1492 Spain fighting the Knight’s Templar for the Apple of Eden, while attached to their mechanical hentai tentacle. Sophia and her father (Jeremy Irons) believe the Apple of Eden can cure violence, but only a descendant of the Assassin who hid it can lead them to its whereabouts.
I played the first two Assassin’s Creed games a little bit on PS3. As I recall, the Animus was the tutorial. The modern day character would enter the Animus to learn the controls, but then the game took place entirely in the past. Guess what? The protagonist of a movie is not your playable character. This is all way too much explanation for how he goes back in time to do Parkour.
There’s no life or story in 1492 Spain. Cal only visits it for three disconnected action scenes. Herein lies the struggle of video game adaptations. A game does not need any explanation. You’re running from or fighting bad guys because they’re chasing YOU. You’re playing, all you need to know is you’ve got to get away. In a movie, you identify with characters who are not you.
Yet Assassin’s Creed still asks us to buy into these historical action scenes simply because some dudes are chasing Cal/Aguilar. There’s a woman in the flashbacks so we’re expected to assume they’re close. So much time has been spent on exposition in the present, we don’t even get to meet the past characters before stuff happens. There is a prologue about how the Assassin’s recruited Aguilar, but it’s just a generic ceremony, not any sort of character development, let alone introduction to supporting characters. And what was the point of the opening crawl if there was still going to be exposition about the Apple of Eden?
There are exceptions to the requirements of identifying with characters. A film can have a cold open where we’re just thrown into the action, and we go along with it. There’s a certain trust implicit in the good will that the film will explain who our hero is and why we want them to survive. James Bond can do it because we already know who James Bond is. You certainly can’t have a movie that drops three unmotivated action sequences in the middle.
Even generic martial arts movies set things up. There’s a hopeful student, an evil villain comes to town, so he has to train to fight him. Assassin’s Creed literally removes the basics and doesn’t understand why we no longer care. Even if the action were better, it would be too disconnected. As it is, it is mimicking action that Hong Kong performers were doing long before CGI wire removal.
All of the story parts are in the modern day section and they suck. Cal and Sophia spouting psychoanalysis 101 to each other is not character development. It shows they barely understand the one-dimensional archetypes they’re playing. I will say, the cast seems to believe in the nonsense premise so they fully commit for the fans. When Cal and the other test subjects fight in modern day, they’re not wearing old timey hoods so you can see it’s really them.
Doesn’t some director want to take a video game and go, “I’m going to show them. They’re all going to remember me as the man (and it will probably be a guy) who cracked this!” Honestly, how could you think we were going to like this?