Unless otherwise denoted, all uses of the name Assassin’s Creed refer to the 2016 film being reviewed, not the 2007 game that started the series.
Assassin’s Creed is an ambitious film that attempts to do what the games haven’t lately: tell a coherent, sensible story. On that front, it succeeds. Other parts of the movie, such as the special effects, fall short. Fans of the series will find plenty to enjoy but will aso find plenty to be annoyed by. Even so, the movie is a decent outing that serves as an adequate stand-in, seeing as no mainline Assassin’s Creed game launched in 2016.
Assassin’s Creed follows two characters in two timelines, following the lead of its video game counterparts. Callum Lynch is the present-day descendant of Spanish Assassin Aguilar de Nerha, both played by Michael Fassbender. Lynch, a lifelong criminal, has been sentenced to death but is saved by Abstergo Industries. He is transported to an Abstergo facility in Spain to be plugged into the Animus, because during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, his ancestor was the last known individual to possess one of the Apples of Eden. Abstergo hopes to scour his memories for clues as to what Aguilar did with the Apple all those centuries ago.
The twisting and turning plotline pits Assassins against Templars in both the past and present to varying levels of effectiveness. Most importantly, the storyline makes sense, when it’s all said and done. Many fans would agree that the storyline of the games was derailed after Assassin’s Creed III, and the plot has been hard to follow ever since. But Assassin’s Creed puts it all back on track in a mere two hours. It’s almost as if Ubisoft is trying to “reboot” the story, in a way, by saying “Just watch the movie, and you’ll know what’s going on.”
If that’s the case, it works. The movie is straightforward and easy to grasp, even with little prior knowledge of the series. The film fails to plainly state from the start that Templars run Abstergo Industries, so the film can be tough to follow initially for newcomers, but by the end it’s obvious that Absergo and Assassins are at war, and Callum Lynch plays an important role by the end. It’s easy to see exactly where the storyline came from and where it’s headed.
Even so, the story itself isn’t the most riveting. Just as in the games, the best part of the experience lies in the past. In this case, that’s 1492. The present-day segments of Assassin’s Creed are decent and far exceed the present-day gameplay segments of the gaming series, but they’re still not nearly as enjoyable as the historical sections. Unfortunately, time spent in the present vastly exceeds time spent in 1492 Spain throughout the film.
When Lynch dives into Aguilar’s past, the movie becomes an action-packed adventure filled to the brim with combat and parkour that bring the games to life. Watching Aguilar spar with Templars and float across rooftops is almost identical to the gameplay of the series. The vibe of the games is perfectly captured in these moments thanks to the choreography and costuming.
Unfortunately, the immersion is broken thanks to some awful, jumpy CGI. Sometimes, when Aguilar leaps, jumps or dives, it’s like watching a choppy, bumpy animation. The CGI is not fluid, and it’s blatantly obvious when the action is being faked. The one time when a jump does look good is when a stunt double does an actual Leap of Faith near the film’s end, but the camera cuts before Aguilar hits the haystack below. Needless to say, the decision is unsatisfying, seeing as that’s the series’ signature move being cut away.
Character development is also a bit spotty. Aguilar has a companion, but without Googling her, it’s hard to so much as remember her name (Ariane Labed as Maria). Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter, Sofia, (Marion Cotillard) are flat characters as well. Callum is decently explored, but that’s about it.
Really, the strength of Assassin’s Creed lies in the fact that it gets the story back on track in only a couple hours and manages to pack in a bit of game-like action as well. It’s fun to watch, though it’s average at best. It doesn’t stand out as a great movie, but it’s one of the better gaming movies of late, at least. Yes, it’s worth watching, but don’t expect more than an average film with flat characters, an average plot and bad CGI. But hey, the costuming is cool, the action can be gripping, and there are some easter eggs and subtle nods to the series’ past hidden throughout.
Long story short, Assassin’s Creed is a must-see for fans who want to get caught back up with a story that makes sense. But for those who gave up on the series’ story years ago, it’s more of a toss-up.