Assassin’s Creed Retrospective: The Movie
By: Kimberly Kuxhause
As I’ve not finished Assassins Creed Rogue yet (I know, I know. I’m working on it!), it’s time to see how the series, from Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad to Edward Kenway, contributed to the Assassins Creed movie and how it stacked up to expectations. It starred Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard and followed in the footsteps of other video game movie adaptations, which is to say no one was overly optimistic about its prospects. Other attempts with other series had been made in the past and few ever did their game counterparts justice. My fellow nerd friends all told me, “It’s not going to be good. Don’t get your hopes up.” They were right and they were wrong, all at the same time.
I’ve made clear in articles past that what I loved most about the video game series was the overarching narrative. The slow, clean introduction into the war between Templars and Assassins allowed the player to experience, both in the past and in the present, why the Assassins were the good guys. We saw how infectious the greed for power was, and the importance of the Assassins in combating that greed (while also preventing the fall of civilization as we know it). The movie did not follow the same approach. We were told about the Templars and the fight for free will was explained to us. It seemed like the story, and the production, was rushed. If you’re going to take on the immense task of adapting such a groundbreaking series, you should be prepared to make a very solid introduction movie. The first game proved you didn’t need a complex plot to win the hearts of fans, and I wish the movie had followed suit. So many things had to be explained, both in the past with Aguilar de Nerha and in the present with Callum Lynch that the plot became bogged down with the details. Like Desmond in Assassin’s Creed Revelations, all that information became too much for me to bear.
In my mind, the movie broke the cardinal rule of storytelling: to show, not tell. The beginning credits alone could be the subject of an entire movie. A lot of the present day narrative focused on exposition between Lynch and Sophia Rikkin. It seemed to divide the present day into exposition and the past into action. While I agree the games did something similar, I would argue that the interactive context is a bit more forgiving than when you’re viewing the story on the big screen. In Lynch’s present story, we had all explanation and little action; in Aguilar’s, we had a lot of action with very little explanation. The dichotomy between stories did not work to plan and the movie suffered for it.
The last big issue is the likability of the characters. From Ibn-La’Ahad to Kenway, from Desmond Miles to an Abstergo employee, all of the characters were at least slightly likable. Desmond had a tortured soul but a good heart, Edward made up for his ragtag ways by returning to England to take care of his daughter, and Ibn-La’Ahad became the best Assassin in…well, let’s be honest, in all of time. Yet nearing the end of the movie, I still didn’t know if Lynch was good or bad. The explanation for his death row sentence was rushed and easily missed. He didn’t care about the Assassins or their cause. In fact, it’s only when he leaves the Animus for the last time that he realizes who the good guys are. I’m still not quite sure why he decided one or the other. You don’t have to create a likable character for a movie to succeed – current superhero movies have shown us that much – but there has to be some redeeming quality or something the audience can identify with. I struggled to find that in Lynch.
The positives? There are many. With regards to acting, I put Jeremy Irons and Cotillard at the top of the list. Irons is a vision as the villainous Alan Rikkin. Although he’s never violent per se, I just know I would hate to cross him. He’s terrifying and amazing all at once. You hear that gravelly, threatening voice and you just know he’s killed before. Cotillard shows off her talents as a cunning and brilliant scientist. She adds a refreshing dash of realism to a story not anchored in reality.
We see other great work in the set dressings. The present day sets really capture the essence of Abstergo. On the surface, the facility is a wonder to behold, but underneath, it hides a nefarious scheme. The rooms are crisp and clean, demonstrating Abstergo’s ruthless intent towards perfection. Old Assassin artifacts are strewn about the facility, from the grenades that Moussa uses to the weapons found in the Animus chamber. The small details help create that complex world we’ve come to love in the video game series. The costume design of Aguilar’s tale absolutely amazed me. It’s clear that a lot of thought and hard work went into the costumes of all the characters, from the Sultan to the Assassins fighting to save the Sultan’s son. It created a past the audience really disappeared into, which is especially important in a story that depends on the past as a plot device.
The most astounding aspect of the movie was the composition of the fight scenes, especially those in the past. Lynch and his crew fighting their way out of the Abstergo facility, four against dozens, showed the audience the strength of the bleeding effect and that the Assassin cause was still alive and well. Yet it was the dynamics of the past that really saved the Assassins Creed movie. The fast-paced chase scenes left me on the edge of my seat, rooting for the Assassins to escape their pursuers. When the warring factions met, the movie showed us the fierce power of the Assassins with some truly stellar fighting moves, making it look effortless while doing so. One of the most important things the movie had to do was capture the terrific power of the Assassins, and boy did it ever.
Despite the improvements that could have been made, I still enjoyed the movie. As an Assassins Creed fan, I found it excelled in capturing that rogue spirit of flying across the rooftops and fighting city guards. It lets my heart pound as I root for the good guys and admonish the bad. It goes without saying that I understand why those new to the series wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did. I hope going forward, the movie’s sequel can convert these newcomers into diehard fans by balancing exposition and action, showing and telling. I know it’s a series worth giving a second chance and I can’t wait for the opportunity to do so.