Assassin’s Creed is a fantastically terrible movie.
Before I begin this review, I must add a necessary preamble: I have never played the games, and I watched this movie in a cinema in China, with my cousin and his wife. It wasn’t dubbed over in Chinese or anything, they just added Chinese subtitles … BUT they also removed the English subtitles which were (presumably) originally present during the 1492 scenes. So basically, for half the movie, I was listening to Spanish (which I do not speak), and seeing Chinese subtitles (which I cannot read). Yes, it was frustrating, a little. But it was also hilarious. The point is, take this review with a grain of salt.
That said, I am taking this part of my experience into account when forming my opinion of this film, and I still think it was Not a good movie. Because of all the parts that I did understand (and let’s be real, the 15th century scenes weren’t THAT hard to follow because it was mostly action, plus you can of course glean plot stuff from body language and so on), it was still incredibly far-fetched, weak, and not particularly entertaining. Also, I read the Wikipedia plot summary too, just it turned out I’d massively misinterpreted something (I hadn’t).
The premise is that centuries ago, the Templars were on the search for the Apple of Eden, which contained within it the key to controlling free will in humans. The brotherhood of Assassins were the group that stood in their way to stop them from gaining control over all of humanity.
Jump to modern-day, and our protagonist, Callum Lynch, is a man about to be executed by the state. But instead of dying, he wakes up in the headquarters of a mysterious organisation. A mysterious, slick, attractively-accented woman named Sophia tells him that she’s there to help him and he’s there to help her, and with barely any explanation, plugs him into a machine called the Animus. The Animus makes him experience the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar, who in 1492 was on the search for the Apple. The logic is that because Callum is a descendant of Aguilar, plugging him into the Animus allows the Mysterious Organisation staff to access his ‘genetic memory’, through which they’ll be able to view Aguilar’s actions and find out where the Apple is. Sophia tells him that her goal with all this is to ‘rid the world of violence’.
This is, of course, an incredibly far-fetched premise. I don’t have a huge problem with far-fetched premises though (for example, I quite enjoyed the 2012 film and I was a huge reader of Matthew Reilly’s books back in the day). But here’s why I had an issue with it in Assassin’s Creed.
1) There was barely any explanation or backing of this premise at all. I’m okay with ridiculous premises if it seems like there’s enough logic behind it to make it believable to the point where my fiction-consuming suspension of disbelief can carry it through. If there’s enough worldbuilding, I guess. This movie DID NOT HAVE ANY. They barely bothered to try to present the Animus as something that made any remote amount of sense, and for something that wild and wacky, lack of explanation would be fine if it were for a tongue-in-cheek, self-aware type of sci-fi (like Futurama for example), but …
2) The film took itself way too seriously. There was pretty much no modicum of humour to this film at all. Nothing that suggested that its events were to be regarded with anything other than the utmost seriousness, and if you’re gonna make a film that way, it better make a whole lot more sense than Assassin’s Creed did.
I found the dialogue particularly irritating. When Callum first wakes up in Sophia’s lab, she does not give him any explanation. She doesn’t even say ‘we can’t explain’ or anything like that. This doesn’t make sense. If you want an effective participant in your wacky science, wouldn’t you try to placate them? Instead, no, she just throws fucking weird one-liners that mean nothing and are clearly meant to be dramatic, but just sound idiotic because who in reality would talk like that? It’s so heightened and unrealistic, it’s like it was written by a foureen-year-old revelling in the sci-fi thriller genre. I say this because it sounds exactly like the ty0pe of bullshit I used to write when I fancied myself a writer at age fourteen.
All the English-speaking parts of this movie are basically this. For example, Callum tells Sophia (about the Animus), “What I saw up there, it felt real.” Her response? “It was.”
THAT WASN’T AN EXPLANATION. She just says it as if telling someone that reliving your five-centuries-dead ancestor’s life through a VR machine is something that can just be accepted like that? We, the audience, are expected to just accept that?
Once again, this unexplained scientific bullshit would be fine if the film seemed aware that it was unexplained scientific bullshit and used humour or something similarly effectively self-referential to carry it through. But no, the entire film was ridiculously serious in tone, and their approach in making the audience accept its bullshit premise seemed to be to just give as little information as possible, present it with the utmost gravity, and hope we’d fill in the blanks. Honestly, this just seems incredibly lazy, like the writers couldn’t even make up a sufficiently believable backstory for their premise. I was looking forward to some exposition at the start of the film, and there turned out to be close to none.
Relevant point: Sophia’s stated goal of using the Animus is to find the Apple and rid the world of violence and pain. She says this. She tells Callum, and her father (a powerful man in their organisation). But never is it actually explained HOW she plans to do this. I presume that the Apple, which contains the key to human free will, can somehow be manipulated to shut off humanity’s ability/urge to be violent? That holds up with the in-universe rules, but I can’t get over the fact that the writers couldn’t even tell us this, I had to deduce it myself. Which wasn’t at all difficult to do, for the record, but it comes off as a bit ridiculous that Sophia states such a lofty goal and the audience is just supposed to accept it with no further elaboration at all. It’s ridiculous that she expects Callum to accept it. (And if the logic is that she wouldn’t expect him to accept it even with an explanation, why bother at all to state her goal? For FAUXDRAMATIC BULLSHIT REASONS. It would make much more story-telling sense, if she didn’t want to explain it or thought he’d be too dumb to understand, if she’d just said ‘I can’t tell you, but trust me’ or some other shit.)
Okay, onto some other points:
The movie, aesthetically, was quite lovely. Couldn’t find much fault with set design or anything. However, the colour scheme was incredibly uncreative. All the 1492 scenes were uniformly brown, and all the present-day scenes were uniformly grey-blue. I get that colour schemes are a powerful visual shorthand, but when the whole movie is like this, unbroken by any variation, I personally find it a little boring. But that’s more a subjective matter, perhaps.
The Assassin costumes were gorgeous. (I don’t really understand hoods in fantasy/sci-fi/adventure stories, though — wouldn’t they obscure your vision? Isn’t vision very important if you’re a warrior? Especially an assassin often fighting multiple opponents at once, and leaping across rooftops? But I’ll let that one slide due to Rule of Cool.)
The action scenes were fairly good, though a little boring. Perhaps because they were in the Hollywood action sequence style of cutting everything up and never presenting a scene clearly. There were some cool moments, though.
All up, I did not enjoy this movie in the way that the creators generally expect one to enjoy a movie (i.e. because of its quality, not because of its lack thereof), and I did not think it was a good movie either. And I generally love big dumb action flicks (Pacific Rim, for example).
TL;DR: Assassin’s Creed took itself far too seriously for something with such a ridiculous premise, gave insultingly little explanation for any of its bullshit, was full of stupid fauxdramatic and unrealistic dialogue that was clearly meant to be intriguing but just fell flat, and was not in any way satisfying.