Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Unless, of course, you happen to be Michael Fassbender in the first trailer for Assassin’s Creed, which debuted Wednesday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Set to Kanye West’s 2013 track “I Am a God,” the trailer offers a frenetic, frantically paced glimpse at the long-gestating feature film adaptation of Ubisoft’s mega-popular video game series.
Directed by Justin Kurzel, Assassin’s Creed stars Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch, a Death Row inmate who manages to cheat the Grim Reaper with the help of Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), a doctor working for the shadowy Abstergo Industries. “Where am I?” asks Michael Fassbender’s Callum Lynch after waking up in a stark white hospital room. “At 6PM yesterday evening, you were executed and pronounced dead,” Marion Cotillard’s Sophia Rikkin answers. “You no longer exist.” For all intents and purposes, Cal is dead — and now he is going to help Sophia and Abstergo on their mission.
What Cal doesn’t know is that Abstergo is a corporate front for the Templars, an ancient monastic military order that seeks to create a perfect world through total control. Using a device known as the Animus, Cal will be sent back in time in a manner of speaking, accessing genetic memories to relive what his ancestors saw and felt and heard and learned. Except in Cal’s case, his ancestor was an Assassin named Aguilar, an elite agent who existed during the 15th century Spain and proved to be a thorn in the side of the Inquisition. And Assassins just so happen to be the arch-nemeses of the Templars, who want to exploit this genetic knowledge for their own ill-gotten gains.
Overall, the trailer seems to be a lot more fast-paced and hyperactive than I had anticipated; though, perhaps this is a result of the editing more than anything else. We get glimpses of Assassins dealing death with hidden blades, freerunning along rooftops, and generally doing everything you’d want to see an Assassin do in the game on the big screen — including an epic Leap of Faith. We get our first look at the new and improved Animus, too, which is like a hybrid between a cybernetic scorpion tail and Cerebro from X-Men. The fully immersive, 360-degree device seemingly allows the user — in this case, Cal — to physically act out the genetic memories he is experiencing. Considering that the in-game Animus is basically a glorified massage chair, this feels like a massive upgrade, and much more in line with something that a nefarious multinational corporation would use.
But that’s not all. Recently at a press day in London, I saw approximately 15 to 20 minutes of Assassin’s Creed footage, presented by Kurzel. (Obviously, there are some spoilers here.) The footage, as Kurzel informed us, is a work in progress and the effects are largely unfinished. Thankfully, due to an emphasis on using practical effects and shooting on-location, there were relatively few scenes in which the unfinished visual effects distracted from the story. It also helps that Kurzel’s frequent creative collaborator and director of photography Adam Arkapaw frames some truly breathtaking tableaus
The footage opens on a shot of an eagle soaring over a craggy, mountainous landscape — an immediate nod to the iconic birds from the game series (but not necessarily the Daredevil-esque “Eagle Vision). A chyron on the bottom of the screen reveals that we are in New Mexico, 1988. A child rides his bicycle down a long dirt road, pedaling through a desolate town square where stony-faced townspeople sit and stare at him. Ditching his bike outside a small pueblo building, the child enters the house to see his mother sitting at the kitchen table. But something is wrong. She is covered in blood, slumped over her chair, and is completely unresponsive. Her throat has been slit, and a blood-stained necklace bearing what looks like the emblem of the Assassins hangs limply from her hand. Suddenly, the boy realizes he is not alone. A bearded man wearing Assassin garb stands in the corner, a hidden blade protruding from his sleeve. This man, we learn, is the boy’s father
Your blood is not your own, Cal,” his father tells the boy in a catatonic mumble, slowly advancing on his son. Cal, the younger version of Michael Fassbender’s character, is understandably scared, and runs upstairs, clambering onto the roof. Meanwhile, a small armada of imposing black SUVs pulls up outside the house. As riot gear-clad troopers with assault weapons storm the house, we see an all-too-familiar symbol hanging in one of the cars: the Templars. Cal continues running across the rooftops, in a scene that seems to eerily foreshadow his parkour-filled future as an Assassin. Once again, an eagle soars overhead as we cut to…28 years later
We’re now at a Huntsville, Alabama correctional facility. Guards sit around watching a news feed of the head of Abstergo Industries, Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) giving a speech. “Mankind seems intent on destroying itself,” he thunders. We learn that Abstergo’s mission is to isolate the genes responsible for violence, and to ultimately eliminate it. We also learn that Cal has bounced from foster home to foster home before ultimately winding up on Death Row in prison after beating a man to death in a bar. He spends most of his days drawing intensely creepy artwork in charcoal pencil, creating an exceedingly morbid gallery on his cell wall. “Father, that man has the devil in his heart,” a corrections officer tells the priest sent to the prison to administer Cal’s last rites
While in the cell, Cal asks the priest to recite a poem from his youth, Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking,” which Kurzel later tells us contains a hidden message about an ancient Assassin secret. Of course, Cal doesn’t know this yet. All Cal knows is that he’s going to die. “Tell my father I’ll see him in hell,” he spits when asked for his last words. We see Sophia Rikkin sitting in the audience at Cal’s execution, and suddenly everything fades to black…then fades back into the anesthetized white room of a top-secret Abstergo facility.
Cryptically, Sophia informs Cal that he is going to help her, and that he is in no danger, but he freaks out. Naturally, Cal is more than a little perturbed to have shuffled off this mortal coil, only to wake up in the medical wing of a corporate black site. Ripping out multiple IV tubes from his body, Cal staggers out of the room, stumbling and crawling down the long, gray concrete hallways of the Abstergo facility. Other patients mill about, shambling along like zombies in a medicated haze. Jeremy Irons’ Alan Rikkin watches from a monitor in his office as Cal tries to make a break for it. Running through the facility, Cal sees a creepy young girl who echoes his father’s words: “Your blood is not your own.” Finally making his way to a garden area, Cal grabs a golden apple growing on a tree, and heads towards an open window… only to find that they are hundreds of feet above the ground, and his only escape would mean becoming a human Jackson Pollock painting on the rocky shoals below.
Cal teeters on the edge as patients, guards, and Sophia all flood into the garden. He’s cornered. It’s either fight or flight. Michael K. Williams (a.k.a. Omar from The Wire) plays another inmate, encouraging Cal to jump. “You’re not a prisoner here, Cal,” Sophia tells him, trying to calm him down. “I’m here to help you.” Of course, before Cal can answer, he gets a tranquilizer dart in the neck.
The footage presentation then took us back to fifteenth century Spain, throwing us into the midst of an epic chase sequence in which Aguilar (Fassbender) and a mysterious female Assassin (Ariane Labed) run from a gigantic armored man who I can only assume is a Templar. This sequence finds out dynamic duo running for their lives as they leap, tumble, and scramble their way across the city. Occasionally, the image flickers back to one of Cal in his modern-day garb, performing the same actions. This is an effect known as bleeding, where the genetic memory — or regression — which Cal is reliving momentarily desynchronizes, giving us a sense of what he’s doing in the real world. Speaking of bleeding, there’s a distinct lack of it during these decidedly visceral fight sequences. As Aguilar and his female compatriot murder their way through a pack of guards in order to make good their escape from the Templars, there’s nary a drop of blood to be seen. Perhaps this will be added in post, but it definitely felt slightly odd considering the amount of murder we were definitely witnessing.
Everything we saw was well-shot and there was just enough story to hook me in, but I’m not entirely sold yet. Perhaps that is because there’s still so much of the narrative and certain characters that remain a mystery, and perhaps it’s because we were hopping around from past to present without the necessary connective tissue. There are still many, many months before Assassin’s Creed is due to hit theaters, which leaves plenty of time for Kurzel, a filmmaker whose work I quite enjoy, and his team to iron out any issues and make this the historical action-thriller that video game fans have been waiting for.
Assassin’s Creed hits theaters on December 21, 2016.
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