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ASSASSIN’S CREED Is a Fun, Goofy Misfire (Review)

ASSASSIN’S CREED Is a Fun, Goofy Misfire (Review)

Can a beloved video game franchise be successfully adapted into a film? Mankind has asked this question since time immemorial — well, since 1993 when Super Mario Bros. flopped harder than a Mario Kart getting hit with a banana peel. So far, not a single one has, unless your definition of “successful” is “making for a hilarious Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle.” But we keep trying. Assassin’s Creed is the latest video adaption to challenge the assertion, and you have to admit, it makes a pretty valiant effort to break the curse. Certainly it boasts the most intimidating pedigree of any video game movie; all three of its leads have been nominated for or won Academy Awards. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, along with Assassin’s Creed’s director Justin Kurzel, all worked together just last year a stunning adaptation of Macbeth that completely blew me away.

Does that guarantee that Assassin’s Creed will be a quality film, though? Weeeeell, not really. Assassin’s Creed definitely won’t win any awards, and it’ll have a tough time winning the hearts of non-gamers (although it does a much better job of ushering in newbies than, say, Warcraft did). Hardcore fans, too, will probably find the film wanting when stacked up against the hours and hours of time they’ve devoted to their own Leaps of Faith. But damn it if, despite everything, I didn’t have exactly the specific kind of fun I wanted from an Assassin’s Creed movie while watching it.

Assassin's Creed

First, the “plot:” Fassbender plays Callum Lynch, an everyman cipher who’s completely estranged from his family (complete with a dead mom, that ol’ chestnut) and who’s facing a death sentence for murder. Instead of (well, in addition to) facing his capital punishment, he’s rescued by Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Cotillard) of the mysterious Templar-run Abstergo Industries, where he learns that he is descended from a shadowy order of Assassins. She and her father, Dr. Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) are on the hunt for a MacGuffin called the Apple of Eden so they can eradicate humanity of free will, and to find it they hijack the memories of Callum’s 15th century Spanish ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha, which are embedded deep inside Callum himself’s genetic code.

If this all sounds ridiculous, then you’ve never played an Assassin’s Creed game before, because that’s all in there. In fact, it’s even more ridiculous in the game, because the Pieces of Eden were basically built by ancient aliens, and sometimes the Animus—the machine that Abstergo uses to access Aguilar’s memories—is a video game platform. But anyway, the practical upshot is that we spend the entire movie going back and forth between Aguilar, who’s a badass of literally the highest order, and Callum, who’s coming to terms with his Assassin heritage while simultaneously learning some sick parkour moves from being inside Aguilar’s head so much.

Assassin's Creed

Personally, my fondest memories of the Assassin’s Creed franchise don’t revolve around unlocking the secrets of Eden or navigating the complicated feud between Templars and Assassins. They’re of climbing up giant tourist attractions, punching corrupt clergymen in the face, and hanging out with some of my favorite historical figures. Sure, you might come for the cool hoods and the hidden blades, but you stay for the subtextually gay Leonardo Da Vinci of AC2 and Brotherhood, or that mission in Syndicate where you scale Big Ben because Alexander Graham Bell told you to do it, or that time your colonial New Jersey hometown got a namedrop as a hunting ground in AC3.

Okay, maybe that last one is too specific to me and the people I went to high school with, but it’s true and you get my point: at its best, Assassin’s Creed is simultaneously the smartest and the dumbest video game franchise ever, filled with ridiculous and often forgettable plots that act as framing devices for dorky Easter eggs, killer action sequences, and the occasional engaging character moments.

Assassin's creed

Despite its focus on modern-day Cal over the exceptionally cool Aguilar, the Assassin’s Creed movie still seems to know this about itself, deep down in its genetic code. It’s not campy, per se, but it’s also not taking itself so seriously that it won’t make time for some exceptionally dweeby cameos (Fancy seeing you here, Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada!), several scenes where Assassins go completely unnoticed in a crowd despite wearing incredibly conspicuous outfits and giant weapons on their backs, and a metric ton of gorgeous architecture (fans of the Spanish Moors should get especially hype, let me tell you). It might be trying to play nice for general audiences, but it still knows what you’re here for; that it’s shot stunningly and full of incredibly talented actors is just the cherry on the extremely sugary psuedo-intellectual parkour sundae you acted like you didn’t want but definitely, definitely did.

Assassin’s Creed surely won’t be a late contender on anyone’s Best of 2016 list, but as long as you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, you’ll have a surprising amount of fun. Just make sure you carve out a few hours of downtime afterwards, because you’ll definitely come out of the theater wanting to play one of those games for old time’s sake. And really, isn’t that what Ubisoft wanted all along?

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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Images: 20th Century Fox

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