Movie Mumblings:
Assassin's Creed

May 7, 2017 - Volume 3, Issue 1

I love me some Assassin's Creed. People who know me, or listen to the podcast, are well aware of this. Much like I'm the "Star Trek Guy" in my circle of friends, I'm also the "Assassin's Creed Guy." What can I say, I like me some quality franchises.

Naturally, I was stoked when an Assassin's Creed movie was announced. Especially hearing that Michael Fessbender was the star, I immediately declared he would make the perfect Altair (the hero of the first Assassin's Creed game).

Unfortunately, I don't make it to the theaters as much as I used to, so I didn't get a chance to see it during it's original theatrical run. But hello Netflix.

I read the reviews with eagerness, only to see a pall of indifference fall upon the movie. Some were utterly dismissive of it. I was concerned.

Ubisoft, the video game's maker, didn't want the movie made haphazardly so they actively contributed to and oversaw production, unlike so many other video game movies where rights are just sold off willy nilly. They make great games. How could they not make a great movie based on a solid franchise?

The general consensus was that if you were a fan of the games, it was a good movie, but if you were coming in blind, the movie was subpar. And then I heard from a few friends that played the games, that the movie was not really that good.

How could this be?

That brings us to last night. I pulled Assassin's Creed out of the red envelope and made a night of it.

My review can be summed up in three words: I WANTED MORE.

Paradoxically, this describes both what was good with it, and what was bad with it.

I wanted more in the positive sense as what I saw in front of me was fantastic. The character dynamics, the set pieces, the cinematography, the flow and feel of the story (especially in 1492 Spain). What I saw was satisfying and I wanted more of it.

I wanted more in the not-so-positive sense as what I saw was not enough to truly save this film. This movie really needed to be twice as long, or maybe split in two. That extra time would have made it perfect. Val even suggested that if this was a 10-episode Netflix series, it would be the hot new trending thing, with buckets of merch sold at Hot Topic.

(Psst. Ubisoft. Seriously. Wait another year or two and do an Assassin's Creed series on Netflix or Amazon Prime.)

I can say with certainty that if you were not pre-loaded with, at least, the basic gist of the game's storyline, it would be easy to get lost. The movie does an average job of trying to set that table, but I found myself mentally filling in gaps with my game knowledge. Within the first 5 minutes, when Val asked why Aguilar had his finger cut off as part of the Assassin's initiation, I had to pause the movie to explain it as it's not explained at all in the movie (it's to mark you as part of the Assassin's brotherhood, and more practically, it gives you room to make a fist and still deploy the hidden blade). There is only so much you can do within 2 hours and you're just expected to run with it.

Assassins can only count to 9

This movie tries to overcome that time constraint, not by retelling any of the stories from the games, but by creating a brand new entry in the canon. It almost works, but it needed more.

In the movie, you are made to want to care about the modern day character of Callum Lynch (played by Fessbender) first, and the story in 1492 with Aguilar (Fessbender, again) second. The problem is, in the games, the converse is true.

In the games, the modern day character of Desmond Miles is secondary to all the adventures in the past, and for me, his story didn't become truly interesting until Assassin's Creed III (which despite the title, was actually the FIFTH game in the series). Ubisoft built his character's story arc so craftily, that his story was the one I wanted to see the payoff for, instead of the 1776 character of Connor (and I loved the American Revolution story in AC3). But in the movie, I'm told I have to develop an attachment to a character in less than two hours. It tries, but it comes up short.

This time limit makes itself blatantly apparent in the convoluted third act which features (in no particular order):

  • Unresolved daddy issues getting resolved rather quickly

  • A conveniently timed riot at the Abstergo facility
    (featuring the longest lasting smoke bombs in any Assassin's Creed installment)
    helping to MacGuffin the story onward
    (yes, I used the cinema term of MacGuffin as a verb)

  • The Apple of Eden (the true MacGuffin, and in its proper noun form)
    which is surprisingly easy to find, as in how was it still there when any schlep really could have stumbled upon it at any time.

  • Our protagonist having a moment with his dead mother that lets him finally accept who he is.

  • Whatever the hell was going on with Marion Coutillard's character in the lobby outside her father's speech.
    (a screenshot would not help describe it)

  • The final outcome that we all saw coming a mile away.
    (No pic. Spoilers!)

  • I have to say again, I wanted more. If all these were expanded in the second half of a second movie, or the last 2 episodes of a series, it would have been perfect. Instead, it gets crammed together into the back end of a single movie. As Val said, it was if she was reading just the first page of every chapter in a book. Enough to get an idea, and possible interest, without actually getting the full story and, ultimately, being left unsatisfied.

    Even she agrees. More was wanted. More was needed.

    Obviously, I am biased. I love the games, and I came in wanting to love the movie (even with warnings of disappointment). I feel the most honest review I could give you was that I actually did enjoy it. It's not the greatest movie ever, and I can't be entirely sure I'll ever buy it on DVD. But I don't think it was as bad as many reviewers thought, and I would gladly watch it again. It's just that... I wanted more.

    On a scale of 1-4 Apples of Eden, it's gets...