If we’re being generous, video game movies have a batting average that’s somewhere between “LOL” and “DOA”, which is all the more reason why “Assassin’s Creed” deserves your time and attention. When it’s so common place for video game adaptations to falter, it’s positively miraculous when one succeeds as well as “Assassin’s Creed”, a film that not only brings the games’ “Indiana Jones” meets “The Matrix” premise to vivid, exquisite life, but also delivers a blend of martial arts and parkour of the same eye-popping caliber as “District B13”!
Michael Fassbender steps into the dual role of Callum Lynch and the nimble assassin Aguilar, his ancestor in medieval Spain. Marion Cotillard portrays Sophia Rikkin, the idealistic scientist tasked with awakening Aguilar’s memories from within Cal, while Jeremy Irons plays her cold and calculating father Alan. The role of Cal’s father Joseph falls to Brendan Gleeson, while Michael K. Williams plays Cal’s ally Moussa, along with his ancestor and Aguilar’s close confidant, Baptiste. He and Aguilar have another ally by their side as well, in form of their fellow assassin Maria, played by Ariane Labed.
Convicted criminal Callum Lynch thinks he’s headed for death’s door on the day that he is to be executed by lethal injection. However, he awakens from his supposed execution to find himself being held at the lab of Abstergo Industries. Cal soon learns from the scientist heading the facility, Dr. Sophia Rikkin, that Abstergo Industries is a front for the medieval Templar Order who have spent centuries pursuing the Apple of Eden, an artifact they intend to use to subjugate humanity in order to rid the world of violence. Cal is a descendant of Aguilar, a member of the Templar Order’s enemies, the Assassin’s Creed, who have spent centuries keeping the Apple of Eden out of the Templar’s reach. With his genetic connection to Aguilar, Cal is connected to a machine called The Animus, which enables him to relive the memories of Aguilar in order for the Templar’s to track down the Apple’s location.
Look, every gamer agrees that the news of a video game movie that’s actually halfway decent can only be met with a healthy degree of skepticism by rational people. I’ve joked with other gamers that there’s some parallel universe out in the cosmos where video game adaptations are all the rage and its comic book movies that are still struggling to gain some modicum of respect – my kingdom for a world where they’re both kicking butt! But as “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” and “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” have proven, you just can’t write off video game movies completely and “Assassin’s Creed” can now be added to the list of genuinely good console-based big screen adventures. The film is unique from most video game films, in that it creates its own story and characters meant to exist in continuity with the games’ ongoing story, along with a terrific makeover for The Animus from a simple chair in a science lab to a massive metallic arm, allowing Cal to act out the full range of Aguilar’s movements, from leaping across buildings to martial arts maneuvers. One has to wonder if the future of video gaming itself is headed towards players being lifted around a room by a gigantic metal tentacle wired into their minds, but it certainly looks like a blast! (Perhaps, we should develop VR to a respectable level first.)
In a skewed way, the poor reputation of video game movies may actually be to the advantage of “Assassin’s Creed”. With viewers entering the film with lowered expectations, they can truly be blown away by the film’s absolutely fantastic martial arts and parkour-driven action sequences. Highlighting that the film is a typically good for a video game movie is almost faint praise when the stunts and action are as fine-tuned and breathtaking as they are here, but from Cal’s first trip into Aguilar’s memory, the film is truly “District B13” in the Middle Ages.
What’s more, the film tethers the action in the past to the events of the present with quick cuts to Cal acting out Aguilar’s adventures with the help of The Animus, accompanied by semi-transparent renderings of Aguilar’s comrades and his surroundings for Cal to interact with. Cal’s second trip into The Animus brings about easily the best chase sequence of the year, with Aguilar and Maria vaulting across the rooftops of Spain, leaping across horizontal pillars and sliding down ropes whilst delivering punishing kicks whenever their enemies manage to gain on them.
Whilst the majority of the fighting action sees Aguilar and Maria battling groups of opponents, the film also pits Aguilar against a huge Templar enforcer in one-on-one fight that makes terrific use of the series trademark wrist-blades worn by the Assassin’s, though Maria ends up stealing this very scene with a blindingly fast bit of blade combat of her own. Cal also soon discovers that the visions he’s experiencing of Aguilar while outside of The Animus are a side effect of “synchronizing”, where those who’ve entered The Animus gradually absorb the skills and memories of the ancestors they’ve been connected to. It ultimately ends up backfiring on the Templar Order, when a fully synchronized Cal leads his fellow guinea pigs on something of a slave revolt against their captors, which thankfully includes some of the most outstanding martial arts combat you’ll see on cinema screens all year!
With a top-drawer cast, gorgeous cinematography, incredible action sequences and a genuine love for its source material, “Assassin’s Creed” is the kind of film we wished we’d have gotten out of the likes of “Super Mario Brothers” and “Bloodrayne”. Even without praising it as the all-too-rare video game movie that’s actually good, it delivers stunt work and fight sequences that are simply some of the most incredible of the year and on par with the kind of daredevil antics displayed in “District B13” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”. If most video movies were half as good as “Assassin’s Creed”, we’d have absolutely nothing to complain about!
- Both Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons have appeared in Batman movies. Cottilard portrayed the role of Miranda Tate/Talia al-Ghul in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”, while Jeremy Irons portrayed Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth in Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, which he will reprise in the upcoming “Justice League”, along with Ben Affleck’s “The Batman”.
- The Animus was redesigned from a simple chair, as it appears in the games, to a large metallic arm, to create a more interactive experience for Cal, as well as to avoid comparisons to “The Matrix”. Ubisoft, the publisher of the “Assassin’s Creed” games, was closely involved with the making of the film and has stated a desire to incorporate elements from the film into future installments.
- The film recreates the game’s signature “Leap of Faith” without the aid of CGI, as director Justin Kurzel strove to create as much of the film’s stunts without digital assistance as possible. For the stunt, Michael Fassbender’s stunt man, famed British free runner Damien Walters, executed a 125 foot (38 metre) drop, the highest free fall performed by a stunt man in 35 years, lasting for 3 seconds and impacting at a speed of 61 miles (98.1 kilometers) per hour. You can see the process of filming this incredible stunt below!