Disclaimer: this writer has never played an Assassin’s Creed game. So if you’re that guy who cheered at their screening when someone fell into a haybale, maybe you shouldn’t read this.
Michael Fassbender has been rocking our socks off as an actor for a while now. Ever since his film debut in Zack Snyder’s 300, he’s put together a diverse array of performances that spreads from westerns to superhero tentpoles, and with Assassin’s Creed he re-teams with Justin Kurzel (his director on MacBeth) in an attempt to launch his very own franchise.
Callum Lynch (Fassbender) is a career criminal who, after his execution, finds himself in the laboratories of the Abstergo Foundation instead of… well, being dead. Abstergo has tracked his bloodline back to the ancient Assassin’s Creed, a group of killers aiming to stop the Templar Order from finding the mythical Apple of Eden. Using an invention known as the Animus, Lynch relives the memories of his ancestor, the assassin known as Aguilar de Nerha, but little does he know that Abstergo has other plans for him.
Like Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, which was released over the summer, Assassin’s Creed is loaded with exposition pretty much from the get go. However, unlike Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed has no personality or technical wizardry in order to make up for it. The film is badly directed from the get go, using underlit, monochromatic color schemes in every badly-framed shot it can. Kurzel used similar techniques in MacBeth, but despite having nearly ten times its budget, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t even come close to being as striking as his previous film.
The film is also strikingly poorly-edited. The work attributed to Christopher Tellefsen here feels like a Suicide Squad-esque studio hatch job, except it somehow manages to be even worse. The film cuts seemingly at random, with the action (the bulk of which is set in fifteenth-century Spain, with all the dialogue being in subtitled Spanish) going from Fassbender in Spain to Fassbender in a lab climbing on holograms and back again, giving the audience little time to get invested in the Spain shenanigans. When the camera is allowed to linger on the action, it shows that there is some legitimately impressive choreography happening, which makes the cut-riddled rest of the film just that much sadder by comparison. But the editing is bad even in scenes where characters are sitting and talking, ruining the film’s few attempts at comedic beats and making conversations last far longer than they should. It’s essentially a lesson on how bad editing can completely distroy a film’s pacing, and should almost be recommended just for that.
It’s hard to find bright spots, even among the film’s highly talented cast. Outside of one glorious moment where he gets to overact, Fassbender is stuck playing a generic tough guy that is not part of his skill set in the slightest. Marion Cotillard is clearly phoning it in, with her performance making me wonder if we’ve found her so interesting for all these years because she’s actually a good actress or if it was because she just had an interesting accent. Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, and Denis Ménochet are stuck in nothing roles, playing generic baddies that not even their natural talent could overcome. Irons doesn’t even get to ham it up as the Abstergo CEO, a crime that should get Kurzel a minimum five-year sentence in director jail. Michael K. Williams stands out as a Haitian assassin, but only because he seems to be giving two separate performances, one being an eccentric voodoo-practicing killing machine, and the other being a concerned, friendly man. The lone legitimately good performance in the film is Ariane Labed’s Maria. Labed wowed in a supporting role in Yorgos Lathimos’ The Lobster earlier this year, and she shows legitimate action chops here. If the film surrounding her was any good, this could have been a major breakout part. Instead, it makes you realize why Alicia Vikander decided to go with the similarly lethargic Jason Bourne instead of taking this role.
Assassin’s Creed is an absolute mess, a misfire that was seemingly doomed from the beginning and all but guarantees that Fassbender will have to go back and play Magneto a couple more times. If it weren’t for the absolutely reprehensible The 5th Wave, it would be my least favorite film of 2016. Skip it.