Slavishly faithful to its source material, Assassin’s Creed is a dire, deafeningly dull disaster.
I once spent about 36 hours in hospital, bedridden, and hooked up to IV drips as I was pumped full of fluids and insulin to counteract the Ketoacidosis I was in the throes of when I first found out about my Diabetes diagnosis. 36 hours where I could not do anything except stew in my thoughts, lay down stock-still in my incredibly uncomfortable hospital bed, drifting in and out of consciousness, and watching rubbish television. The sensation I most felt was severe, crushing, unadulterated boredom. It is so very, very dull to have to lose a day and a half by laying down dead-straight in a hospital bed doing absolutely nothing. But, it must be said, it was far less dull than having to watch Justin Kurzel’s movie adaptation of Assassin’s Creed.
Christ, is Assassin’s Creed dull. It is so very, very dull. I know that “dullness” is an effect of many other problems with something rather than the root problem itself that overrides everything else, but, Christ, is this movie ever duller than a thousand village council meetings about zoning permissions. It’s duller than the Religious Education classes I had in Secondary School that our regular, completely-bonkers teacher wasn’t there to take. It’s duller than watching a sloth try and conduct an orchestra. It’s duller than the combined filmography of Antoine Fuqua. It’s duller than actually playing the first Assassin’s Creed game, a notoriously dull disappointment, cos at least the game let you personally stab fools in the neck in between all of the ponderously dull unskippable self-serious 4th Grade Philosophy Class lectures bookending those stabathons.
Here’s a basic observation that is clearly going to be mind-blowing information to everybody involved with the production of this movie: The Animus does not work as a film concept. I mean, the wrap-around future nonsense that fills out the other 30% of these games is never anybody’s favourite part of this series anyway – not even the developers care for it anymore, given that they stopped bothering to advance the narrative after 3, instead just making the same meta-commentary on game development over and over again ever since – but The Animus at least serves a mechanical purpose in these games. It provides an excuse for all of the game-y stuff that goes on and provides a narrative excuse for why the player is rail-roaded into doing certain tasks or objectives; they’re only playing a history that has already occurred, not changing it. But this also doesn’t remove the tension from the game either, because the player still needs to accomplish these tasks before moving on and the player is a fallible input. For a videogame, The Animus at least makes a sort of sense.
For a film, or, really, any non-interactive medium, there is absolutely no reason for its inclusion or, really, any of the future bullshit. The Animus is an immediate tension-suck, an immersion-breaker, and there is no reason to base any part of a film around it in any way. By utilising it as a framework for the Assassin segments set in the past, rather than having those segments be the sole (or even just driving) force of your story, you are basically filming a joke-free, scripted, heavily-expensive Let’s Play of a vastly more interesting movie. I’d say that I’ve watched Let’s Plays that were less dull than Assassin’s Creed, and I just do not get Let’s Plays at all, but I feel like I’ve needlessly denigrated the form by merely invoking its name in the same sentence as this movie. By featuring The Animus, you are implicitly telling your audience – and, hell, not even that, since Marion Cotillard explicitly tells Future Fassbender before he goes into The Animus for the first time that he cannot change any of these genetic memories – that absolutely none of the expensive action sequences, and certainly none of the characters they meet in them, that they are about to watch matter in any way whatsoever.
Good lord, how did nobody get this?! How did an entire blockbuster production crew of people not understand that The Animus does not work in a movie setting, the negative effect that it has on the narrative both structurally and emotionally, and that it would resultantly mean flipping the usual 70/30 ratio of the games the other way around despite that being A HORRIBLE IDEA?! So, what ends up happening, is that you get subjected to an endless, and does it ever feel endless, collection of disjointed overly self-serious lore dumping, and then every 30 minutes Future Fassbender gets strapped into one of the fingers from the final boss of Mass Effect 2 to run about as Passtbender in a desperate attempt to wake the audience up from their collective comas. You remember that last Bloc Party album? The one where they ditched the best parts of that group to make lifeless gospel music instead? Of course you don’t, because it was achingly dull, but it was less dull than this tripe.
Like, if you must include every aspect of the Assassin’s Creed lore into your movie adaptation – and you shouldn’t because a) that lore is stupid, and b) films do not have the same structure in place to make an unnecessary overabundance of lore go down smoothly – at least do so with some semblance of self-awareness or humour. The games were doing that by their second instalment, for crying out loud! Warcraft, a movie that was basically nothing but Blizzard’s ridiculous lore being didactically vomited into your face for 2 hours, had just enough self-awareness to make watching it entertaining. Assassin’s Creed is a stupid movie in the dullest, most miserable way possible. There’s not a single moment of life in the thing, no joy, no passion, nothing that could push this thing into being even the slightest bit fun to mock. There’s a scene where Future Fassbender takes his shirt off before entering The Animus for absolutely no reason, and I couldn’t muster even the tiniest iota of a reaction. This film is duller than a Kardashians marathon, cos at least that would provide me with some actual goddamn drama!
The Kardashians also features characters I could likely tell apart if I subjected myself to even just 10 minutes of that thing, which is something that 116 (ONE-HUNDRED-AND-SIXTEEN) minutes of Assassin’s Creed were incapable of doing. There are something like 40 people running about this movie, almost all of them played by actors and actresses of such calibre and talent – Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling have 2 scene cameos, Cotillard blankly mumbles her way through endless droning exposition, Ariane Labed basically accompanies Passtbender for the 3 scenes in total that the movie actually spends in Andalusia – and all with such visible disinterest or disdain for being here that I’m assuming Fassbender must have really incriminating info that he’s using to blackmail them into this. None of them play characters, and less do anything interesting or even just consistent with their past actions. Certain characters have conflicts that are randomly dropped without explanation, others get suddenly murdered and we’re apparently supposed to care despite none of them having a personality, and one character ends the film swearing vengeance upon the main protagonist despite having condoned the act that they perpetrated. It’s like The Walking Dead yet somehow even more dull.
This, in theory, would be the point where I try and rescue director Justin Kurzel, previous of Snowtown and the 2015 version of Macbeth, from this Hindenburg-ian disaster (if the Hindenburg were about as interesting or exciting to watch as a tortoise taking a dump), but nope. Kurzel’s direction here is atrocious. The same stylistic tricks that worked for his Macbeth in creating a moody, ominous, and violent Shakespeare adaptation cause him to become completely unstuck here. Almost every shot is given this intentionally dimming, downcast filter that pushes the mood into something akin to listening to A Great Big World’s “Say Something” for more than 30 seconds. That gets coupled with a relentlessly shaky camera in the action sequences, clearly meant to hide many of the stabbings in order to hold onto that 12a rating despite there being plenty of unobscured stabbings throughout, that oftentimes renders the action near-incoherent. Much has been made about the “Leaps of Faith” – which is referenced by name by Cotillard in-film, God, this movie is stupid and completely unaware of it being so – being practical effects rather than CG, but the result on screen is so mired by frenetic camerawork and such a hideous Instagram filter that I didn’t even notice. I was lulled into too strong of a trance by the dullness on display.
Have I mentioned that this movie is dull enough times, yet? Cos, Christ, is it ever dull.
Oh, and the editing! I hadn’t even mentioned the atrociousness of the editing yet! So, because of the framework of The Animus and all the Future Fassbender stuff – which is still a unbelievably stupid thing to include in a $125 million movie, HOW DID THIS GET INTO A $125 MILLION MOVIE – Assassin’s Creed first has to introduce itself three separate times before it can get to the friggin’ point. There’s a pre-title prologue where Pastbender gets inducted into the Assassin’s Brotherhood/Guild/Creed (the three terms are used interchangeably because nobody proofread any part of this shit), followed by a modern flashback where Futeen Fassbender is first introduced to us in order to set up an arc with his dad that doesn’t get resolved and only serves to make Abstergo look like morons, and then we get introduced to Future Fassbender. He’s a death-row inmate, executed in front of the State, but rescued by Abstergo, the modern front for the Templars who are sworn enemies of the Assassins, because they want to use his genetic memories, accessed by the oversized crane game masquerading as The Animus, to find The Apple of Eden because reasons.
Already, this plot is a mess, devoid of all tension or intrigue, since the stuff of consequence already happened 510 years earlier and we’re just watching these ciphers watch that stuff back, like a Spaceballs gag gone sentient. But just in case you thought you’d be able to lose yourself in these terribly-shot, needlessly-obscured, characterless action interludes, well I’m afraid that Assassin’s Creed has got some bad news for you! There’s an extended foot chase around the middle of the film, that almost threatens to reach the level of “momentarily engaging…” only for the film to continue cutting back to images of Future Fassbender cosplaying the stuff that we’re already seeing Pastbender do in a large empty room whilst attached to one of those sticks you play Hook-a-Duck with at carnivals. The film has both so little interest in its own action sequences, and so little faith in the audience of them understanding “The Bleeding Effect” – where users of The Animus start to absorb the physical skills of their ancestor as time goes on – that it has to keep undercutting these sections to show a Future Fassbender doing his best Star Wars Kid impression, which is a video you could artificially stretch to 116 minutes and would still be less dull than this goddamn movie.
And then, as the final indignity, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t even bother to close with an ending, electing to just stop after 100 or so minutes have passed with a tacked-on epilogue that I would have deemed “hysterically inept” were any part of this film not the dullest fucking thing I had experienced in at least the 2 years of my life. Ubisoft clearly think they’ve got either a viable franchise or keystone upon which to build their filmmaking empire here, hence the spiffy new Ubisoft logo that pops up pre-film, but what they’ve actually managed to achieve is create a firm reminder of why videogame companies need to stay far away from adaptations of their own work. What works in a game’s story for a videogame doesn’t always work for its story in a film, because some story choices are for justifying gameplay mechanics rather than for the benefit of the narrative. But give a videogame studio predominant creative control on a film and they’ll suddenly, wrongly, believe that every aspect of their lore is straight genius that needs to be perfectly replicated regardless of whether it transfers across mediums or not, and they will do so in the most painfully drearily self-serious manner possible, too, like this shit is Shakespeare. And that’s how you get completely worthless disasters like Assassin’s Creed, a film that should not be viewed under any circumstances.
And, seriously, you have absolutely no idea just how fucking dull this movie is. I cannot properly express to you the sheer scope and all-encompassing magnitude of its relentless dullness. Words are incapable of fully communicating the exact manner of dullness that emanates from this duller-than-shit piece of arse.