Assassin’s Creed is the best film adaptation of a video game we’ve ever seen. Granted, that’s not exactly a huge wall to scale. The world of video games adapted to the big screen has had more valleys than peaks, and problematic films like Silent Hill and Resident Evil are considered the best this brand of movie making has to offer. Cult status has been kind to movies like Super Mario Bros. and Mortal Kombat in recent years, but even those fall into the category of fun rather than good. Leave it to a filmmaker like Justin Kurzel (of Snowtown and Macbeth) to show how it’s done. With breathtaking visuals, commendable performances, and an unconventional story Assassin’s Creed handily Parkours its way up through the ranks to come out on the apex of them all.
Chief among those commendable performances is Michael Fassbender playing Callum Lynch, a criminal on death row for murder. Cal is saved from execution by a corporation, the Abstergo Foundation, which has the ability to bring someone’s ancestral history to visual life, to actually witness key events in that ancestor’s timeline. Their interest in Cal is quickly revealed. He is the latest (and potentially last) descendant of members of the Assassins, an enigmatic sect of warriors who have pledged their skills to protect the world from their eternal enemies, the Templar Knights.
Forced to undergo the experiment, Cal is placed in the Animus, a virtual reality machine that allows one to experience the memories and movements of their selected ancestor. He soon finds his consciousness in the body of Aguilar de Nerha, an Assassin in 1492 Spain, where the Spanish Inquisition is in full effect. It’s also where the Abstergo Foundation hopes to discover the location of the Apple of Eden, an ancient device that can rewire the human race to erase all free thought and, the corporation hopes, all tendencies towards violence. Needless to say, things get very violent very quickly.
It was an unexpected decision on Kurzel’s part to take on Assassin’s Creed as his latest endeavor. With Snowtown, the filmmaker proved his worth when it came to deep, emotional storytelling. His adaptation of Macbeth from last year showed the world the filmmaker had the visual chops to deliver something truly epic and outside the norm of conventional storytelling. Adapting a video game for the blockbuster crowd seemed like a step back on paper, but the work he offers here should be considered anything but slumming it.
Kurzel and the screenwriting crew (Michael Lesslie and Adam Cooper & Bill Collage ) do a fine job adapting the story from the popular video game. The series from Ubisoft has always left itself open to interpretation, each game telling a different story from the long, historical line of the Assassins. The storyline playing out in the film seems to touch on the basics: the order of Assassins, their fight with the Templars, the Animus, and even the Apple of Eden. The film utilizes all of these aspects to tell an engaging and cinematically interesting story, none of which seem to follow the standard rules of blockbuster filmmaking.
That isn’t to say Assassin’s Creed slips up when it comes to delivering energizing action sequences, either. Kurzel and company bring each of these sequences to cinematic life with an abundance of excitement and impressive, practical stunt work. Aided by the vision of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, who worked on Kurzel’s previous films (also: The Light Between Oceans, Animal Kingdom), the action littered throughout Assassin’s Creed keeps the action interests high while the abnormal storyline plays out in full effect.
Sure, it isn’t difficult to gather where the story in Assassin’s Creed is headed, at least in terms of good versus evil, but the commendable performances across the board keep it all on a level of interest that far exceeds expectations from such an adaptation. Fassbender, of course, delivers the perfect mood for the film’s rebellious anti-hero. He even delivers the best comedy in a film that otherwise settles on dark and somber more often than not. As expected, actors Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard also play that attitude extremely well as the father/daughter team behind the corporate interests, as does Charlotte Rampling in a role that defies expectations.
There is much that defies expectations when it comes to Assassin’s Creed, though. A video game adaptation that has as much interest in telling an engaging story as it does delivering thrilling visuals shouldn’t be considered an abnormality, but that’s the world of blockbuster filmmaking in which this particular film finds itself. That it delivers wholeheartedly on both fronts shouldn’t be astounding when someone like Justin Kurzel is in charge, either. However, surprisingly enough, Assassin’s Creed ends up being a video game adaptation that fans and newcomers can appreciate in equal measures. No, the bar for bringing video games to cinematic life isn’t one set all that high, but it’s a bar Assassin’s Creed seems to effortlessly vault over making its presence in the movie world felt.