Saturday, December 24, 2016

Movie Review: Assassin's Creed



**SPOILER ALERT**

Happy Holidays, everyone! Last night, the boys took me out to see a movie at Movie Tavern (and if you haven't been to a Movie Tavern, you totally need to try it). Rogue One was already sold out for the two shows that evening, so we decided on Assassin's Creed.

I've never played the video game, but I've watched some cut scenes, and they're totally cool. I didn't know much of anything about the mythos of the video game, and I'm sort of glad about that, because I went into the film cold. That meant I didn't have any preconceived notions about what the film should be, and could look for a complete story.

Remember "Movies for Guys Who Like Movies?" You'd probably see this one in that lineup. The visuals in this film were really cool, and what I would expect of something based on a video game about assassins, i.e. lots of action, violence, etc. There were spots here and there where the motion capture was clearly CG, rather than a real body, and unnecessarily so, giving the film enough of a surreal look to grab my attention and draw me out of the plot. My ten-year-old had some trouble following the plot here and there, but a quick explanation was enough for him to keep up. And speaking of plot, that brings me to my real negative about the film.

Here There Be Spoilers

Sadly, the plot is rather shoestring, just enough to hang the movie on, and no more. Michael Fassbender plays Cal, a man who has grown up on the wrong side of the tracks and lands in Abstergo Industries, a company who seems to be hoarding criminals for the purposes of putting them in a machine that will somehow lead them to the film's MacGuffin, a device called the Apple of Eden. This Apple supposedly holds the key to ending free will, and the Assassins have sworn to defend it from the nefarious Knights Templar, who want it in order to bend the world to their will. The scientists at Abstergo learn that Cal is a direct descendant of the Assassin last known to have the Apple, and here is where I thought the plot fell apart.

The lead scientist, Dr. Sophia Rikkin, is the daughter of the company's bigshot. She claims to be doing research that will end mankind's propensity for violence, and she thinks the Apple is the key. This anti-violence woman is the first to greet Cal upon his traumatic arrival at Abstergo. She then proceeds to put him into the machine, an uncomfortable and frankly scary device, with zero explanation, and subject him to scary, violent images. I'm not sure how this is supposed to hang together, logically. I certainly doubted it could rid Cal of violence, and I don't know how the writers thought Sophia would think so. Plot logic is important, as is a logical motivation for your characters.

Cal's genetic memories of his ancestor, brought on by this machine, are super cool, though. I really wish they had just done a whole story in the past about Aguilar, instead of hopscotching back and forth between past and present. I know the video game spans different times, but I think they could have done much better at conveying that on film.

Everything comes to a head when the Templars learn where the Apple has hidden all these years, and it's up to the Assassins to stop them from using it. The criminals from Abstergo turn out to be other descendants of Assassins, and that left me wondering why Abstergo kept them around. You'd think they'd have these Assassin descendants killed, since they were of no use to Abstergo, not being actual leads to the Apple. Nope. Let's just hang onto those liabilities, and house and feed them and spend money on them until they turn on us. That makes sense, doesn't it?

There's so much backstory going on in this movie that the characterization suffers. We don't know much about Cal or Sophia, and nothing at all about Cal's fellow inmates of Abstergo. Frankly, in his few lines, Baptiste nearly stole the show in terms of characterization. I would have liked a little more about each of these would-be Assassins, so I could care more about them if they were in danger. Good characters make even a bad film memorable.

The good guys win, of course, and look badass doing it, but when I thought about why I didn't thoroughly love this movie, the answer was simple. In fiction, we are told that flashbacks kill pacing, and that's just what happened here, aside from lack of meaty characterization. It's really too bad. Boiled down, those of us who spent our hard-earned cash to see this movie simply sat around and watched Cal remember stuff.

Conclusion

The story is left wide open for a sequel. I'll watch followups to the film, but maybe wait for video to do so. It's a fun popcorn movie, if you're up for an afternoon of Matrix-like action. Until next time!

RATING: 3 of 5 stars

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