So, Assassin’s Creed has come and gone and it seems it’s another addition to the long line of failures of video game adaptation. And it’s a shame, for several reasons. Firstly, it’s got a lot going for it, there’s a lot of promise and groundwork for a great film, it’s got a lore pre-build from an extensive series of games, and it’s simply just a great premise. The biggest shame is that it’s actually a really exceptional adaptation, more or less nailing everything great, as well as everything not so great, about the games. Why, therefore, is it such a turkey?
Perhaps, dare I say, it’s too good of an adaptation. It crams essentially everything into the film, way more than was needed. We’ve got the Assassin’s and the Templars, the Apple of Eden, the precursor civilisation, even a modern-day collection of Assassins. Now, maybe they could have fit all of this in, in a way that wasn’t just scenes of solid exposition, and maybe it would have been interesting. I for one believe that less would have been more, it’s not that interesting in the games anyway, but it would have left more times for what we wanted to see: the past.
Which is easily the greatest strength of the film. Kurzel is experienced with historical fiction from Macbeth, another film that suffered from style over substance, but that experience shines through. The Spanish Inquisition is atmospheric and wonderfully realised (In many shades of brown), but also the action is phenomenal. Sufficiently video game-y, but never overly ridiculous, there are more than a couple of jaw-dropping moments. The issue then is that it doesn’t mean anything.
And that brings us to the next big problem. Assassin’s Creed really needs to pick a protagonist. Callum is, quite frankly, cardboard, we have no reason to care about him or believed any struggle he had throughout. Aguilar, on the other hand, is underdeveloped. The relationship with Maria could have been a driving motivation, instead, he just seems like a stoic block. It could be said that Altair had the same problem, but at least there was a story there. He fell, he rose again, he discovered a conspiracy, he meant something. Aguilar is just a catalyst for the action.
The obvious choice of protagonist here is Aguilar. They’ve got as many films as they want to develop Callum and the modern Assassin’s, Aguilar should have been the central driving force of the film, and should have reflected the moral dilemma that Callum was having and help make his final choice of allegiance to the Assassins. Also, we didn’t really need the Apple of Eden in this one, they had to make us believe in genetic memory, two ancient orders working in the dark, the ability for a man to jump off a cathedral and survive. Maybe an ancient artefact that can control people was too much. Also, it leaves no suspense. Why are Abstergo doing this? To what end do these faction fight? Questions we didn’t really need answered in this one, especially when the conflict between Templar and Assassin is far more interesting.
Strangely, Assassin’s Creed should have been an easy one to get right. A huge part of the storytelling of most games is through gameplay, a problem Creed has by putting a cutscene before and after every mission. Plus, with the excellent cinematic trailers that Ubisoft systematically provide, Creed only had to do the same, with more. There are many more problems with the film; the animus is rubbish, the bleeding effect is about as subtle as a neon flashing sign and the Templars are so obviously bad guys that there’s never any nuance to the conflict, I mean come on, creepy French doctor, straight-talking British CEO, even a brutish security guard, oh, and they imprison old people, at least the Assassin’s don’t have gatherings with mandatory cult uniforms.
Honestly, the Assassin’s Creed fan in me was disappointed, and the film critic in me was bored. They’ve got to have something really special in mind for the next one for the ridiculous amounts of screen time spent of exposition from Oscar-winning actors. Does it bode well for Video Game adaptations? Probably not. At least it took the source material seriously I suppose. It lacks the cheese factor of Resident Evil, Prince of Persia, hell even Warcraft, which I think quite highly of. Maybe it’s simply better for everyone if games companies stick to controllers.
P.S. Or keyboard and mouse.