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Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

December 26, 2016

Like the Assassins, Assassin’s Creed Will Stay in the Dark

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Michael Fassbender’s Assassin’s Creed is probably the best video game movie adaptation I’ve ever seen and I hated it. Though this movie certainly has its own issues, which I’ll get into later, my greater frustration is that it continues the trend of video game movies falling flat. As someone who has spent most his life playing video games, it pains me to keep seeing my favorite franchises have their reputations smeared on the silver screen. Every release, from Tomb Raider to Mortal Kombat, has been a regular disappointment. I’d say the Resident Evil franchise has made waves but despite getting the green light for a total of five sequels its films get torn apart by critics and fans alike.

For you to understand my issue with this movie I have to explain the plots on which it is based. Assassin’s Creed loosely follows and condenses the complicated story of the first three games in the franchise: Assassin’s Creed I, II and Brotherhood.

Warning: video game and, to a lesser extent, movie spoilers ahead!

All three games center on Desmond Miles, a modern-day descendant of master assassins Altair Ibn La’Ahad and Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Both Altair and Ezio were key members of an ancient organization known as the Assassin’s Creed, which sought to protect the innocent. In the present day, Desmond is forcefully employed by the Abstergo Corporation, a front for the Knights Templar — the ever-present nemesis of the Assassins, to retrace his ancestor’s steps. Abstergo uses a machine called the Animus that allows Desmond to relive his ancestors’ genetic memories. The corporation hopes to retrace the Assassins’ steps to reveal where the Assassins hid the Apple of Eden, which can be used to enslave humanity by destroying free will. In the present day, Desmond begins to hallucinate as the line between his ancestors’ pasts and his own reality blurs. Due to his prolonged time in the Animus, this “Bleeding Effect” activates Desmond’s Eagle Vision, a sixth sense mastered by the Assassins. As he unearths more of the truth, Desmond goes rogue and uses his newly found Eagle Vision to acquire the Apple for himself, thus saving humanity from the Templars.

In the film, Callum Lynch, played by Fassbender, shares blood with Aguilar de Nerha, an Assassin during the Spanish Inquisition. Side-note: águila means “eagle” in Spanish… easy does it with the symbolism guys. Lynch is revived after his own execution by the Abstergo Corporation, headed by Dr. Sofia Rikkin and her father — played by Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, to be used in their Animus program. In the movie’s universe, the Templars have traced the Apple of Eden all the way through history to Águilar and hope to discover its present location by finding out where he hid it.

If you’re not a fan of the games all of that probably seemed a bit confusing, but in the games where the story can be revealed over the course of hours and hours it all makes good sense. The player is given time to digest the plot and become invested in the characters. The film’s 115-minute runtime robs the viewer of this luxury and squanders every character arc but those of Lynch and Rikkin. Potentially intriguing characters like Moussa, another of Abstergo’s kidnapped Assassin-descendants, and Maria, Águilar’s will-they-won’t-they Assassin cohort, receive so little screen time that the audience can’t even begin to relate to them.

I suspect that some executive at 20th Century Fox saw the successes of sequel-driven franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a video game series with 13 entries and put the film on course for a sequel that will likely never see the light of day. This approach led the director, Justin Kurzel, to focus heavily on Lynch’s actions in the present day instead of Águilar’s actions. This is the downfall of the film. The studio was so concerned with setting up Fassbender’s character for the future that they neglected to deliver on it in the present.

What I as a long-time fan so desperately wanted to see was a film that forgets about Abstergo and the Animus. Cinematic releases simply don’t have the time to make such complex concepts work! Give me Assassin’s Creed: Águilar: the story of an Assassin fighting for what’s right against overwhelming odds during the Spanish Inquisition; let me fall in love with Maria and the other Assassins. There would be no problem hiking up the stakes around the fight for the Apple in the past because the Templars were seeking the same goal then as they were in the present. What upset me so much about this film is that it gave me glimpses into the movie I so desired and repeatedly ripped me away from it.

This film even messed up the fast-paced sequences from Águilar’s point of view. The outstanding action is absolutely cut to pieces. Every stunt is seemingly shown from every perspective, jarring the audience and often cutting away from anything that might have raised red flags for a PG-13 movie. The film’s rating is another mistake. Every main entry in the video game franchise is rated M, meaning players must be 17 to purchase them for themselves, and depicts jaw-dropping violence and brutal assassinations. Taking this away from the franchise is clipping the eagle’s wings.

The acting is solid — Fassbender and crew seem to do the best they can with what they’re given. I’d even call the script adequate given the sheer volume of material it tried to cram into two hours and despite my reservations about the editing of the action scenes, it was a thrill to see the Assassin’s fighting style on the big screen. Still, Assassin’s Creed is a film plagued by a studio’s desire to make money on a sequel. Until a studio has the fortitude to make a video game movie for the sake of making a good movie, they’re all doomed to this brand of disappointing mediocrity.
Rating: four out of 10 Hidden Blades.

Nicholas Smith is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nks53@cornell.edu