I was excited for the Assassin’s Creed movie and had made plans to see it the day after it came out. Unfortunately, due to our scheduling around the holiday, I’ve only been able to get to this review now, weeks after its release. I think I can safely say that the Assassin’s Creed movie wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t very good either. I really wanted this movie to do well, and it had a lot going for it, but it just fell flat in too many places. Thankfully, it didn’t pander to preexisting fans and turn every scene into a pointless Easter egg hunt. Unfortunately, part of me suspects that’s because the people who made the movie don’t know all that much about the games in the first place, and not because of any considered storytelling decisions. On the whole, though, the movie suffered from poor characterization and worldbuilding.
Spoilers for the movie below the jump.
The story has a fairly strong start—I would actually have been impressed with it for the first thirty-some minutes had I been able to excuse the main character’s fridged mother. In the modern era, a young boy named Callum Lynch sees his Assassin father murder his mother before Abstergo shows up and takes his father into custody. Callum manages to escape, only to end up in foster care and then spend his adult years getting himself arrested. Now in his thirties, Callum faces the death penalty for murder. Abstergo, however, tracks him down and saves him.
Callum winds up in Abstergo’s Madrid facility, run by Sophia Rikkin, the daughter of Abstergo’s CEO. Sophia was a scientist long before she was a Templar, however, and as her goal is to cure violence, I can only assume it’s through her influence that all the Assassin captives in her facility are still alive. What she’s doing is not very clear. Does she believe there’s an actual cure for violence, or does she believe that that’s what the Templars will use the Apple of Eden for? Nevertheless, she plugs Callum into the Animus in order to relive his ancestral memories and locate an Apple hidden by the fifteenth-century Assassin Aguilar de Nerha. The Bleeding Effect kicks in, though, and Callum learns that his mother also used to be an Assassin, and that she had his father kill her in order to avoid capture. Armed with this new knowledge and all his nifty Assassin tricks, Callum helps the other Assassins escape the facility. Together, they manage to get a hold of the Apple and assassinate Abstergo’s CEO, setting up Sophia to be the main villain in the sequel.
There are so many things wrong with this movie that I hardly know where to begin—we’ve got the random leaps in logic, the Templar reveal (we don’t find out Sophia’s a Templar till near the very end for some stupid reason), the lack of worldbuilding, the poor female representation, the overall lack of convincing characterization, and a complete misunderstanding on how the world of Assassin’s Creed actually works. I understand that video games are not based on reality, but they are based on suspension of disbelief, which can easily be broken when a story stops following its own logic.
The Templars and the Assassins want to kill each other. When Templars capture Assassins in the games, they only keep them alive long enough to get to their memories. Then they kill them, for good reason. The Bleeding Effect from the Animus makes them better Assassins. Instead, Abstergo just randomly decides to keep a couple dozen Assassins alive for no reason whatsoever after making them better Assassins—while also giving them free rein to walk around the facility. But the Bleeding Effect doesn’t just increase their physical skills, it also messes with their minds. According to the games, people who use the Animus for long periods of time may start to have trouble telling themselves apart from their ancestors and begin hallucinating the past. In the movie, however, that’s only the case if they don’t willingly enter the Animus.
This wouldn’t be a problem, except the movie takes place in the same world as the games, and that’s not how this world works. Desmond from the games willingly enters the Animus all the time, and he still struggles to tell himself apart from his ancestors. At one point, the Bleeding Effect almost kills him. And although it took Desmond almost a full week of non-stop Animus sessions before he started to experience the Bleeding Effect, Callum’s Bleeding Effect starts immediately. And for some reason Callum’s doesn’t work the same way as literally everyone else’s in the entire story universe. Aguilar’s ghost or something shows up to personally train him. His mother’s ghost at one point also shows up to give him inspirational words.
The movie should have the leeway to build upon the world of Assassin’s Creed, and in some ways, it does this, mostly through the introduction of new characters—but that’s not the case for how it handles the Bleeding Effect. The movie takes an already established rule and breaks it to suit its own purposes. The Bleeding Effect cannot bring back people’s ghosts in order to be an Assassin’s personal trainer. It can only show a person memories. Unless Aguilar de Nerha randomly decided to hold training montages for his descendant 500 years later, it makes no sense.
There’s also this really stupid subplot where the other Assassins get angry that Callum willingly enters the Animus, even though the Bleeding Effect didn’t destroy their minds, meaning that they also willingly entered the Animus. Even if I accept the way Callum’s Bleeding Effect works, I’m not sure why the other Assassins are mad at him for saving his own mind when they must have done the same thing. They make a point that Callum will lead the Templars to the Apple, but they could have just as easily done that as well—and the fact that they didn’t means Abstergo has no reason to keep them alive.
This is what I mean by nothing making a whole lot of sense.
I can think of a few things I like about the movie—the head of the Templars is a woman, and we’ve also got Sophia set up as the new Abstergo CEO and main villain. The token Black guy lives, and we’re introduced to a female Assassin played by Taiwanese actress Michelle H. Lin. Unfortunately, she has no lines, even though she also survives and is potentially set up for a bigger role in the next movie. But the inclusion of actors of color is not enough, especially because they’re token characters and not really people. The movie’s over two hours long and yet I don’t know anything about them other than that they exist.
Then there’s also the whitewashing. Both Callum and Aguilar are played by the same actor, Michael Fassbender, and as a result Aguilar has nearly no spoken lines because Michael Fassbender doesn’t speak Spanish. Just get another actor who can speak Spanish. I don’t know why Fassbender had to play both roles. Did the movie think audience goers would forget that Aguilar is Callum’s ancestor otherwise? People aren’t that stupid. It also doesn’t help that Aguilar’s partner Assassin, Maria, constantly needs saving. This is a pretty awful crime, since it’s pretty clear early on that Maria was a Master Assassin before Aguilar, and she devotes her life more fully to the cause. Needing Aguilar to constantly save her would have been bad enough, but then she also gets fridged for his manpain.
While the Assassin’s Creed movie certainly isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and there are definitely more awful video game movies out there; it just wasn’t very well made. I walked away from the theater feeling as though numerous character development scenes were missing. The movie was already over two hours long—at that point, if there were some cut scenes, they should have just added them in. This very easily could have been a much better movie that fit in with the games had just a little more time and effort been put into it. Unfortunately, everything that happens starts to fall apart and make little to no sense the minute you start to think about it. I would stick to the games. If you really do want to go out and see a movie, however, Rogue One’s a better showing to spend your money on. I hear Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is also still playing.