As the release of Warcraft approaches, the marketing campaign for another major video game adaptation is just getting started. Assassin’s Creed, based on the wildly popular series of historical sci-fi adventure games by Ubisoft, stars Michael Fassbender as dual protagonists: a modern day former convict called Callum Lynch, and his Assassin ancestor Aguilar de Nerha. The two characters collide when Cal is captured by the sinister Abstergo Industries, who use a machine called the Animus to force him to unlock his genetic memory and uncover secrets from the past.
20th Century Fox has now unveiled the first trailer for Assassin’s Creed, which featured plenty of reasons for both fans of the video games and total newcomers to start getting excited for this movie. To celebrate, let’s recap the most interesting elements introduced in the trailer.
An Eagle Eye View
The Assassin’s Creed games recreate the past by building entire cities filled with famous landmarks – and what better way to appreciate these grand vistas and skylines than by making it a core game mechanic to stand on top of very tall buildings? A later shot in the trailer shows an eagle circling one such viewpoint – another classic piece of imagery taken from the games, which thematically represents the Assassins’ gift of “Eagle Vision” – a power that allows them to keenly observe their surroundings and pick out their enemies.
The historical segments of the movie were filmed in Valletta, the capital city of Malta, a location rich with enough surviving historical architecture that there was little need for green screens to create the on-screen depiction of 15th century Spain. It’s a setting that strongly echoes the design of cities in the early Assassin’s Creed games, and the fairly narrow streets afforded plenty of opportunity to show Assassins leaping from one rooftop to the next. This shot of Aguilar standing at the very top of a tall tower, overlooking the city before taking a Leap of Faith (more on that later) demonstrates that the movie isn’t afraid of sacrificing a little practicality in exchange for style.
Meet the Rikkins
When Callum wakes up and finds himself still alive, the first face that greets him is that of Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), who leads research into Animus technology and the knowledge that it can uncover from the past. Also shown briefly in the trailer is Sophia’s father, Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), a shadowy figure from the video game lore who will apparently be brought into the light in this film.
The Rikkins are both “bad guys” since they belong to the Templars, the secret society that has been warring with the Assassins for millennia. Abstergo represents the friendly modern face of the Templars, while the organization behind it continues to exercise huge power and influence worldwide. However, while Alan Rikkin has been established as a pretty unpleasant character, Sophia is something of a wild card; she seems cool but not cruel towards Callum in this trailer, and is perhaps meant to act as a “good cop” in order to keep the subjects pacified.
The New Animus
Easily the biggest departure from the video games seen in the trailer is the Animus, which has been completely reimagined as a device that lifts its user off the ground and suspends them in the air while they explore their ancestor’s memories. Fassbender has explained that the reason for the redesign was to make the modern day version of the regression more active, so that the movie can cut back to the present and give audiences something more to look at than a guy passed out in a chair.
Changes from the source material can sometimes anger fans, but this redesign looks pretty great even from these first few glimpses, and will surely serve to make the experience of reliving memories in the Animus more dynamic. It also provides an explanation for how Callum will develop muscle memory of fighting and running from his experiences in the Animus.
The Hidden Blade
Of the many, many, many weapons that have been featured through the Assassin’s Creed games, there is one absolute constant: the Hidden Blade, the signature weapon of the Assassins and a favorite means of dispatching targets.
What’s particularly interesting about the introduction to the Hidden Blades in this trailer is that they are forced onto Callum’s wrists by Abstergo guards before he uses the Animus, suggesting that they are an integral part of the process of memory recall (they do, after all, appear to be Aguilar’s original blades). Still, it can’t be a good idea to hand weapons to a prisoner (however much Sophia may insist that the facility is not a prison). Later in the trailer, Ariane Labed’s character – one of Aguilar’s fellow Assassins – is shown using her own twin Hidden Blades in battle to dispatch a pair of guards simultaneously.
Cal’s ancestor Aguilar de Nerha lives through a particularly brutal chapter of history: the Spanish Inquisition. This trailer indicates that the Templars are on the side of the Inquisition – hardly surprising, since in the video games Rodrigo Borgia a.k.a. Pope Alexander VI was “revealed” to be the head of the Templar order. Meanwhile, the Assassins are public enemies, if the glimpses of Aguilar seemingly awaiting execution are anything to go by.
The setting of the film is particularly interesting because it coincides with the lifespan of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, easily the most popular of all the playable Assassins in the video games, who was the protagonist of three entries in the series. Perhaps it’s too much to hope that Assassin’s Creed will feature a cameo appearance by Ezio, but we can dream. After all, we know that Ezio was a highly influential Assassin in his time, and if he travelled as far as Constantinople in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, it’s not out of the question that he might have visited his fellow Assassins in Spain as well.
Among the most impressive aspects of the trailer are the shots of Assassin’s ascending, descending and traversing their environment, thanks to the filmmakers utilizing the expertise of parkour experts like Damian Walters. Free running is one of the core game mechanics in Ubisoft’s franchise, just as important to the spirit of the games as sneaking and stabbing, so pulling off some cool-looking parkour was an essential part of bringing the property to the big screen.
With the exception of a few extra backflips, the parkour in the trailer is strongly reminiscent of the moves on the video games, with the Assassins pulling off tricky moves such as leaping backwards from one wall to land on another, and crossing stomach-turning drops between rooftops. The trailer also demonstrates how the Assassins use high ground as a means of surprising their enemies – jumping down and stabbing them before they have a chance to react.
The modern concept of an assassin is someone who slips in unseen and vanishes before anyone realizes a murder has been committed, but the Assassins of Assassin’s Creed have a slightly different approach. The original game, set in the Middle Ages, based the Brotherhood on a real life order of assassins called the hashashin, who specialized in highly public executions of their targets, in order to better strike fear into the hearts of their enemies.
As seen in this trailer, the Assassin approach to killing is based more around style than stealth, with a popular feature of the games being the ability to perform incredibly cool-looking fighting moves and executions. The Hidden Blade was heavily incorporated into this, and could be used both as a weapon of stealth and a weapon for full-blown battle, as demonstrated in this swift double execution.
The Bleeding Effect
Cal might not be an Assassin, or even much of a fighter, but one of the benefits of using the Animus is the way users can retain muscle memory of the actions that their ancestors perform, allowing them to hone their battle skills in the real world. This is shown numerous times in the trailer, with Cal performing amazing feats of athleticism and even seemingly turning on his captors with the help of his fellow subjects.
Of course, this comes at a price. In the games, use of the Animus also leads to a disorder called the Bleeding Effect, in which the line between past and present begins to blur. Even when not in the Animus, heavy users experience vivid dreams or even waking hallucinations that can eventually drive them insane. It’s unknown to what extent this will be featured in the film, but it would certainly serve as impetus to drive Cal to escape if his use of the Animus was threatening to turn his brain to mush.
The Leap of Faith
Perhaps the most instantly recognizable and iconic move from the Assassin’s Creed games is the Leap of Faith, something that is treated with both affection and amusement by fans, since it involves Assassins leaping gracefully off deadly heights and landing completely unscathed – so long as there is a conveniently-placed cart full of hay beneath them.
During Screen Rant’s visit to the set of Assassin’s Creed, we were told that they would not be magical piles of hay in the movie, but whether that is a misdirect or whether Aguilar simply finds something else to break his fall, it’s clear that this was one element that just couldn’t be left out of the movie.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Kanye West’s “I Am a God” has been one of the most divisive aspects of this trailer, with many comments along the lines of “Great trailer, bad choice of music.” Fortunately it isn’t too pervasive, and the only spoken lines stick to the religious theme, rather than going into detail about Kanye’s Porsche, his millions, and his Don C snapback.
The trailer boasts some absolutely gorgeous cinematography in the historical segments, courtesy of director of photography Adam Arkapaw, whom Kurzel has praised for his skilled use of lighting and knowledge of “how to tell a story through movement of camera.” When combined with the excellent parkour and fighting moves, this creates some truly jaw-dropping shots and also reveals that the movie won’t be afraid to pull the camera back and let the audience see the fighting and chase scenes taking place in a wide shot – something sorely missing in many modern action films.
Though the redesigned Animus looks very cool, the modern scenes aren’t quite as visually impressive as the historical scenes – perhaps because the blue-grey tone of the Abstergo facility feels so much gloomier. That said, there is a nice contrast between the two settings, and there are glimpses of interesting and varied environments in the modern day storyline – like the indoor garden that Cal walks through.
While it may be difficult for those not familiar with the games to make sense of the story from this trailer, it’s very exciting for the core fanbase and the mythology can probably be extrapolated upon in future trailers. Altogether, this is an extremely promising first look at what could be the first truly successful video game adaptation.
What did you think of the first trailer for Assassin’s Creed? Let us know in the comments.
Assassin’s Creed arrives in theaters on December 21st, 2016.