Video games unite generations and create fantastical worlds of escapism and even influence pop culture and society. Games like ‘Tomb Raider’, ‘Mortal Kombat’, ‘Street Fighter’ and ‘Super Mario Bros’ to name but a few. Timeless creations that just beg to make the leap from small screen to big screen. However, not all – if any – transitions seem to work. Something always fails to click. Something always is misplaced, misinterpreted or misunderstood.
So when a multi-award winning next-gen gaming franchise like ‘Assassin’s Creed’ decides to make the leap of faith from console to cinema, there was plenty to genuinely be excited for at the idea that this could shake things up and actually be a hit. Engrossing game-play with interesting characters, a fascinating story in stunning historical cities, palm-sweating combat and ingenious action you had total control over. And soon, a few big names became attached like Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. It’s a no brainer!
This will be a transition that actually adapts a faithful story from so much material and avoids insulting everything the game is about. Looking at you, ‘Super Mario Bros’. What could go wrong?
Answer? Quite a lot in a big number of ways.
The story is so complicated and lacking in any narrative that you really fail to care about what is happening and why, and to whom. To be fair, the Apple of Eden has always been the source of the gaming quests, but most of the game doesn’t REALLY bang on about it too much and you sort of know what it’s for but it doesn’t detract from everything else. Here, the Apple plays a far too serious and important role, but you never really know what the hell it is. Is it a god-like super-weapon? Is it a virus? What happens when it’s activated? What will happen to humanity and how?
From the weak and empty story, this in turn affects our cast. While Fassbender, Cotillard and Jeremy Irons have a set calibre for acting that means they never really disappoint in their roles, here they are wasted and, again, far too serious. Their characters are given minimal motive and backstory – granted, the Abstergo folk are easy to take on face value, but Callum Lynch and Aguilar, both played by Fassbender, don’t get the chance needed to connect with audiences or even become very likeable.
Callum does grow on you towards the end when he’s not groaning and talking like Batman or trying to question everything with another question, but he’s not one you feel very involved with throughout. And Aguilar? Who? Just some robed Spaniard with tats who knifes people as an Assassin. There’s nothing about him that we discover to make us care – he’s a machine more than a man, and only in small glimmers during the small amount of time we actually share WITH the Assassins does he look more than 2-dimensional. Kudos for them filming the segments in Spanish though for authenticity. But, this could be seen as bad making it a little TOO serious for audiences to enjoy.
The ethics are all wrong. We spend far too much time out in the “real world” trying to work with Fassbender and Cotillard to make sense of the world, understand what Callum’s destiny is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. In the games, most of this is explained in 10 minutes or less and we are straight into the story – using the “avatar” Assassin of yester-year to explore sprawling cities, meet a few famous faces and carry out covert and overt investigations and assassinations to piece together a Dan Brown-esque mystery that could spell certain doom for man-kind.
Here, we get sepia toned CGI Spain that lacks the visual splendour the games. No sprawling cities, vertigo inducing cathedrals or expansive countryside or oceans. We just get a Zack Snyder-esque CGI world of dull deserts and city that looks the same in every angle. There’s nothing appealing about it when the Animus takes us back there a few times over the 2hrs. This adaptation sucks every enjoyable asset out of the game to give us some brooding, over-serious, often boring and rather un-exhilarating damp squib of a film.
But let me try add SOME glimmer of redemption.
A few nods to the game are very obvious for fans but they are often within seconds of each other to please the gaming audience. The wasted CGI Leap of Faith. The CGI eagle. The impressive parkour chases, the brutal hidden blade kills and hand-to-hand combat. The eerie soundtrack. That’s about it. And as said before, it’s so sad that we spend so little in the actual “game” of the Assassins, as there is so much promise there and they could have created something so much more rich, vibrant, engrossing and entertaining. Instead, it’s few and far between, and it’s a little dull. Most of the action and story is focused in the present, and even that drags on until the final act when things start to loosen up a bit. Assassins unite! Stuntmen fight! Oh…no…it’s all over just as it was getting good.
The talent of our assembled actors are probably too good for this. That, or the film is just too bad for them. Probably a bit of both. It’s a real shame for such a promising idea on a very rewarding and exciting game which has so much to offer film-makers, but instead we get…this.
Say what you will, but for me ‘Street Fighter’ is still one of the best video game-to-film adaptations. At least it is fun and respects the source material, and it looks like masterpiece compared to this.