It’s amazing how an empty wallet can alter your lifestyle. Back when I could actually afford groceries, I used to frequent cinemas around town in a spirited but ultimately desperate attempt to keep up-to-date with all the latest releases. Somehow I thought if I kept reviewing new films I’d attract more blog traffic. Haha, what a fool I was. Now that I’ve fallen on rough times and can’t afford to frequent cinemas, I’ve resigned myself to waiting for all the hot movies to come out on home media (or Netflix, or torrents, mostly torrents). Just yesterday I was in the mood for something silly and decided to watch Assassin’s Creed, the latest in a long list of unsuccessful adaptations of video games I’ve never played. I knew, going in, that the movie wasn’t going to enlighten me, or move me, or inspire me in any conceivable manner. What I didn’t know was how utterly boring it would be. I fell asleep for about forty-five minutes in the middle, woke up and didn’t miss a beat.
The plot, as far as I can recall, deals with travelling through one’s memories in order to relive past lives and learn hidden secrets that might be useful today. In true Dan Brown fashion, there is a holy MacGuffin in 15th Century Spain that is contested between the Knights Templar and a clandestine organisation of rooftop-leaping, dagger-swirling, hood-covered acrobats known as the Assassins. The Knights Templar desire peace through control; the Assassins desire it through free will. Never mind that their very name incites violence and death. What the MacGuffin — dubbed the Apple of Eden — is supposed to do is… I actually can’t remember. Not that it matters anyway. All you need to know is that both factions are vying for it, and for reasons never made clear we’re meant to side with the Assassins.
This is a dreary film, in which there is lots of ominous talk about the Apple and freedom and politics, and very little entertaining action. There is indeed action, but it feels phoned in from the green screen studio in which it was filmed. It doesn’t help that the scenes in 15th Century Spain seem caked in a layer of dust and the ones set in the future have the contrast ratio of a toy camera.
The future is where the movie begins. Michael Fassbender plays Callum Lynch and we meet him on death row, where he’s miraculously whisked away by Marion Cotillard, who works for the Abstergo Foundation and conducts her research under the thumb of her cadaverous father Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons). Who knows what Abstergo does? Could it be a front for the Knights Templar, who have survived all these centuries and now need to access the memory banks of Callum’s past Assassin life in order to ascertain the location of the Apple of MacGuffin? Is it conceivable that Callum has no idea what’s going on until he somehow manages to manipulate the contraption that penetrates his mind and unlocks the skills of his ancestor so that he can become a modern-day Assassin?
What’s with these Assassins anyway? All we ever see them do is brood and skulk, occasionally fight, and very often race along vertiginous rooftops just so they can fall gracefully off them and land on their feet. The last scene of the film made me laugh. Callum, having rediscovered his Assassin-ness (and his ancestor’s wardrobe, apparently), stands triumphant on a towering rooftop and looks out upon the city as the camera sweeps around him, and all I kept thinking was “Thank God the Assassins are back to stand triumphant on towering rooftops and look out upon the city. It’s a long-lost art.”
I cannot account for the forty-five minutes I missed while dreaming of a hypothetical better film starring the completely wasted talent of Assassin’s Creed’s cast — which includes Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, and Essie Davis — but of the minutes I did see I enjoyed about two of them. Assassin’s Creed is directed by Justin Kurzel, whose earlier Macbeth (2015) was a film of genuine class, rich in atmosphere and personality. How did he go from that to this? Next to Macbeth, this is a high school film project, and not a very good one. It is a step for Kurzel that is symptomatic of Hollywood’s recent penchant for nabbing quirky, talented independent filmmakers and shoving them into blockbuster projects, not because Hollywood admires their talent and thinks they can bring something imaginative to the table, but because they’re easier to mould and manipulate than, say, Joss Whedon. Duncan Jones made the brilliant Moon (2009) and then churned out Warcraft (2016). Jordan Vogt-Roberts made The Kings of Summer (2013) and then the godawful Kong: Skull Island (2017). Colin Trevorrow made Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), one of the most original pictures I have seen, and then made Jurassic World (one of the worst pictures I have seen) and will go on to direct a Star Wars movie. And now Taika Waititi has been robbed from the chamber of his magnificent Kiwi comedies and is making Thor: Ragnarok.
I cannot recommend a movie like Assassin’s Creed, nor would I want to. I can’t even suggest it as one of those “silly films you just wanna have on in the background”, because the paint on the wall behind it would provide better company. I keep thinking about Macbeth and how much I loved it. I think about the gorgeous cinematography. The colours of brown and gold. I think about the music, composed passionately by Kurzel’s brother, and how intimate it made the dialogue. And then I think about how Assassin’s Creed has none of those things, and how it fails to do any of the simple things a decent movie should.