'Assassin's Creed' [Blu-ray]
(Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons, Michael Fassbender, et al / 2-Disc Blu ray + DVD + Digital HD / PG-13 / 2017 / 20th Century Fox)
Overview: When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.
Blu ray Verdict: Assassins Creed 15th century: "The Templars" wants an apple containing the genetic code to free-will and with it curb humanity to their bidding (The Ludovico Apple?). The "Assassins" try to stop them because people retaining their free-will is preferable to turning people into clockwork oranges, they also rescue the son of a Sultan (used as a bargaining chip by the Templars to get the Sultan to surrender the Apple). Fighting and jumping up and down buildings ensues until the Assassins finally kill the villains and hides the apple with Christopher Columbus whom takes it to his grave.
This plot - if fleshed out with some characterization, wit, exposition and depth - would probably require something like 110 minutes and could have been a pretty good adventure-film. In adapting this game there was an obstacle however, another element that needed to be included for as not to be unfaithful: The twist that outside of the period piece/adventure-tale we have a modern, high-tech kidnap/detective/conspiracy-plot.
Assassins Creed present-day: Callum Lynch (Fassbender), a criminal that saw his mother (Davis) murdered by his father (Gleeson) is arrested and sentenced to death. He is then saved by the "Abstergo Foundation", an organization run by Templar Alan Rikkin (Irons). Also working there is Sophia Rikkin (Cotillard), a leading scientist on the "Animus Project". The "Animus" is a machine that can be hooked up to humans and trace the memories of their ancestors and so gain information from history. Lynch happens to be a descendant from Aguilar, the Assassin involved in the plot to keep the apple from the Templars. Proceeding from here we get a stew of father/mother/son-drama, an uprising of assassins against their captors and some drama with the Templars (pressure from bosses, father/daughter-drama and discussions on their motives).
Now take a gander and decide which one of these plot-lines has the most potential to make a decent film. Then imagine them both squeezed into 110 minutes, then realize that only about 35 minutes of 110 is set aside for the 15th century, then get good with fact that even during the meager 35 we - in the most annoying way possible - has to cut back to the present for Fassbender-gymnastics and reaction shots.
'Assassins Creed' works as a game because outside of the Animus things take their time to be revealed and to move forward. It's a game so it can afford to do so, the player of the game will want to get past that stuff as fast possible anyway to get back into the Animus where things are more engaging. It's about playing to the mediums respective strengths, something this film wasn't allowed to do because it wanted to be a faithful adaption and not incur the ire of its fans.
The strength of a big-budget blockbuster would have been to focus on the plot back in the day rather than the present. Imagine the set-pieces, locations, armies, battles, plotting, spying, assassinations and betrayals and similar things that at the least could have made for a passable action-adventure-film. Instead, we're stuck with 75 minutes of disinterested actors showing up on set trying to explain what's going on and who everybody is. And the 35 minutes in the 15th century? it's underwritten to the nth-degree and completely butchered by the up close, shaky hand-held camera work and the aforementioned cutting to the present during action sequences.
The tone is depressing and lacks humor, the characters are weak and it's saddled with nonsense. Why have the silly father/mother/son- drama at all? Lynch could have been a regular person (with a penchant for violence if you need to keep the "violence is genetic-shtick") that gets captured by Abstergo and is subjected to experiments. Then he starts to despise them for the treatment he and his fellow test subjects receives (a rather good scene actually sneaks past the screenwriters where we see the damages that's been done to uncooperative subjects) and starts plotting escape with Moussa (Williams) and the other captives (the uprising is another section that's underwritten).
Instead we get a moment taken from a Harry Potter-film where Lynch has a vision of mom while hooked to the Animus (some kind of full-synchronization deal when Lynch becomes more attuned to the Assassins) and has a revelation that he belongs with them.
Thematically the film is ambitious. Violence as mankind's constant flaw, the question of free-will and identity are all held up for inspection. It's ambitious indeed, and I wonder if the idea was to get those themes working and so not need to spend so much time inside the animus (where they would put most of the action), have the film transcend the expectations of its genre and end up as something more profound.
The theme of identity works better, even though it's rather dull considering the characters we're served with: Lynch is a lost soul, having drifted around from early age with baggage of seeing mom killed by dad and not having a place of belonging, and so Lynch latches on to the identity of a Templar for a short time after a confrontation with dad (also a captive) but later upon seeing mom while in full sync with the Animus, becomes an Assassin instead. It's textbook and "arc-ish", not interesting nor well done, but still something of a success in a movie that could have been so much more; so much better.
As for the special features, for my money the Five-Part Behind The Scenes (running at about an hour in total) are much better than the actual film, sorry! They reveal how Fassbender was kept safe underwater, how the CGI brought to life what-looked-to-be-at-the-time boringly shot "action sequences", and most importantly, how Fassbender does what he does through the air, after some diligent running!
The bits, entitled one and all, are cobbled together weirdly within each of the parts, but you soon forget that as they truly do reveal so much more interesting aspects to the movie than simply just watching it could ever bring to the fore. Like how some of the shots of the Templars fighting Fassbender were filmed, by simply adding a small camera to the sleeve of the person wielding the sword.
Also, the noisy noise you hear in some of the behind the scenes filming is the crews actual drone that films everything from terrific angles, and seamless, it has to be said. Also, the shots of the guys "jumping down" one of the many crumbing arcs is so fluid, so (again) seamless, that you forget for a second that they are wired also! Oh, and for the record, Marion Cotillard is very much a standout in her role as Sophia Rikkin! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Take the Pledge: Behind the Scenes of Assassin's Creed - Five-Part Documentary
Conversation with Justin Kurzel
Deleted Scenes Conversation with Justin Kurzel & Christopher Tellefsen
Gallery & More!
Official Trailer #1
Official Trailer #2
Own it on Blu-ray+DVD+Digital HD March 21, 2017!