It is only natural for a fan of a video game series to want to see a movie based on that series. Also natural is the hope that it will be a video game movie that’s actually good, which is quite a rarity. Since I had played nearly every game in the Assassin’s Creed series, I had anticipated the release of the Assassin’s Creed movie to the point that I pre-ordered a ticket (this is apparently a thing now). After finally getting the opportunity to see it, I would consider it a good movie, but it manages to hold itself back from being great.
Convicted criminal Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is taken in by Abstergo Industries during what is meant to be his execution. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) informs Callum that Abstergo is looking for a powerful artifact known as the Apple of Eden. She also reveals that he is descendant of an Assassin named Aguilar de Nerha (Michael Fassbender) and makes him the next subject of the Animus, a machine which allows the user to relive ancestral memories. By having Callum relive Aguilar’s memories during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, Abstergo hopes to learn the current whereabouts of the Apple of Eden.
The story is, unfortunately, rather thin. It’s not bad by any stretch, but it suffers from uneven pacing, as it gets into itself rather quickly, but has a slow time leaving. The scenes in the present also take up more screen time than the Spanish Inquisition, resulting in a time period that’s not as thoroughly explored as it could have been. On the upside, it did manage to introduce the concept of the Animus fairly well, although the shift in the style of the machine from the games, while certainly more visually exciting for a filmgoing audience, does take some getting used to.
If anything, the real weak link is the character development. We only know the bare minimum about Callum Lynch to know some semblance of a background, but we otherwise know too little about him to truly care what happens to him. I extend this sentiment to Sophia Rikkin, who goes through a character arc that is also difficult to care about. What’s really criminal, however, is the complete lack of background about Aguilar or his partner, Maria (Ariane Labed). We have no clue about his motivation for joining the Assassins or how he truly feels about Maria. In short, the central characters feel more like vehicles to get from Point A to Point B as opposed to people you can get emotionally invested in.
In an odd contrast, the acting is fairly decent, or at least good enough. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard show their capability as actors in their own right and Jeremy Irons plays the part of Alan Rikkin fairly well. The pedigree of the actors, then, feels somewhat wasted on characters who aren’t given proper depth.
A high point for this film is definitely the action sequences, particularly the ones in the past. Along with his partner Maria, Aguilar shows off his skills and ingenuity as an Assassin during his fights in 1492 Spain, some of which we see Callum imitate. The fights are pretty well choreographed and fit in well with the style of the games. They even recreate a leap of faith as a nod to one of the most iconic elements of the franchise. What aids these scenes are the well-done special effects and a setting in the past which seems to faithfully recreate 1492 Spain. The quality of the fight scenes is somewhat counterbalanced, however, by the dark lighting, which can make it difficult to keep track of what’s happening in the present.
While Assassin’s Creed is one of the better video game movies out there, itself a big accomplishment, it could have spent more time developing its characters and providing a reason to invest in them further than what the plot requires. The uneven pacing and relative lack of development for the characters and story in 1492 Spain also hold it back from being a truly great film. I recommend this movie to all fans of Assassin’s Creed who want to finally see one of their favorite franchises hit the silver screen, but it would be harder to recommend to others who want more than an underdeveloped adaptation with good fight scenes. This film is also apparently supposed to act as the beginning in a trilogy, so hopefully the sequel makes an effort to rectify the mistakes made the first time around; I know I’d still watch it.