It’s one of the few absolutes in film: there has never been a good video game movie. In the 23 years since “Super Mario Bros.” was released to resounding vitriol, not one film in the genre has crossed the line into even mediocre. But as “Assassin’s Creed” approached, it seemed like it would be the one to break the mold. Justin Kurzel, who helmed last year’s visually astounding adaptation of “Macbeth,” signed on to direct. He brought with him Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”) and Marion Cotillard (“Inception”), two actors who not only add credibility to their chosen projects, but who have done great work in genre films in the past. All the pieces were in place for a great video game movie to finally happen, but somehow everything still went wrong.
“Assassin’s Creed” opens by introducing the audience to its sympathetic, likeable main character, Fassbender’s convicted murderer Callum Lynch. However, in the rush to get to more scenes of Cotillard and a sadly underused Jeremy Irons (“The Lion King”) vomiting exposition everywhere, the script forgets to give Lynch any humanity or depth whatsoever. The audience is stuck with an unappealing, uninteresting character.
After what feels like an interminable amount of time, Lynch is finally put into the Animus, a virtual reality machine, to live out the memories of his ancestors. This is what fans of the series have been waiting years to see. The idea of seeing it on screen is likely what brought the vast majority of viewers to the theater, and yet it is possibly the worst part of the whole ordeal. To be sure, the scenes in the present are boring and far too long, but at least they were competently made. The scenes in 15th century Barcelona, a city which was apparently constantly cloaked in a CGI sandstorm, are so poorly put together that it’s mind-boggling.
Most of these scenes are made up of a series of action sequences in order to give the plot some illusion of momentum. To be fair, there is some fantastic stunt work on display here, but it’s ruined by some of the most atrocious editing of the year. As it turns out, “Assassin’s Creed” works best when looked at as a cautionary tale about the importance of editing. The constant cutting back and forth between something that might be considered exciting in the past and Callum miming his ancestor’s actions in the present results in some seriously laughable imagery. Even when the film stays in one time period for more than three seconds, it still cuts between shots and locations so often that there’s no tension, no intensity, no excitement. There’s just incomprehensible “action shot” after incomprehensible “action shot” and an Academy Award-nominated actor miming said action shots. It would be utterly hilarious if it wasn’t so damn infuriating.
Finally, after another hour of overwrought exposition scenes and mystifyingly subpar action scenes, “Assassin’s Creed” ends with a rushed climax and resolution that bait a sequel that, God willing, will never see the light of day. It’s awful, but by that point, it’s to be expected. This was supposed to be the film to finally change the tide of junky video game movies. Instead, it became a part of the epidemic itself, perhaps the final nail in the coffin for video game fans who dare to hope.