Assassin's Creed Early Reviews: Slick Action Can't Save Weak Story

Early reviews for Assassin's Creed suggest big-name stars like Michael Fassbender and slick action can't save the uninspired video game movie.

Assassin's Creed poster excerpt

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is, at the time of writing this, sitting comfortably atop the box office both in the U.S. and overseas. The Star Wars spinoff movie will face competition from a pair of bid-budget tentpoles arriving on December 21st (less than one week after Rogue One opened in theaters): Sony Pictures' sci-fi romance/thriller Passengers, with stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence leading the way, and the Assassin's Creed video game movie adaptation that is being headlined by Michael Fassbender, as well as Oscar-winners Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons.

The Assassin's Creed film is particularly noteworthy - not only because it's based on the popular Ubisoft video game franchise of the same name, but also because it is the first of several video game-based adaptations that Ubisoft Motion Pictures intends to release. Early reviews for Passengers has not been flattering and indicate that the film will struggle to compete with the critical/audience favorite that is Rogue One at the box office. Unfortunately, for those fans who had been hoping the film would break the infamous video game movie "curse", the first reviews for Assassin's Creed (which 20th Century Fox is releasing in theaters) aren't much better - if not worse - than those for Passengers.

The following review excerpts for Assassin's Creed - a project that reunites Fassbender and Cotillard with the director of their critically-acclaimed Macbeth (2015) film adaptation, Justin Kurzel - are SPOILER-FREE and include links to the full reviews. For those unfamiliar, here is the official Assassin's Creed plot synopsis:

Through a revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar, in 15th Century Spain. Callum discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, the Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day.

Ariana Labed as Maria in Assassin's Creed
Ariane Labed and Michael Fassbender in Assassin's Creed

Collider - Perri Nemiroff

You can have stunning visuals, promising source material and a fantastic ensemble, but all of that is going to cave under the pressure created by a complete lack of access to the characters. The big screen adaptation of Assassin’s Creed had a lot going for it and even finds a great deal of success on the technical front, but when you couldn’t care less if the characters live or die, the movie is dead in the water.

Variety - Owen Gleiberman

Shot in somber sci-fi Renaissance tones, “Assassin’s Creed” has a “Masterpiece Theatre” cast that’s ten times classier than it needs, it cost more than $150 million to make, and it’s deeply self-serious about its long-ago-and-far-away setting... [Michael] Fassbender takes on the role of Callum Lynch [as] if he were playing Neo from “The Matrix” crossed with Hamlet. His every tragic gaze and saturnine grimace tells the audience that this isn’t just some glorified dystopian joystick ride — it’s real drama! Except that it isn’t. In “Assassin’s Creed,” Michael Fassbender is like the ultimate special effect.

Forbes - Scott Mendelson

The film is a labored exercise in false hope, with top-tier talent and strong production values merely resulting in yet another relatively lousy video game movie. It's the Anakin Skywalker of video game movies, a seemingly promising offering that was meant to save the sub-genre yet leaves it in further darkness. Assassin’s Creed needed to spend less time reading its own instruction manual and more time actually playing its own game.

The Wrap - Michael Nordine

This adaptation of the popular series reunites director Justin Kurzel with his “Macbeth” stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, albeit to considerably less fruitful results; fans of the video game franchise are likely to be even more disappointed than those merely looking for a historical action flick... Kurtzel and company seem intent on making this feel like a movie that happens to be based on a video game rather than a straight adaptation, an understandable aim that results in the worst of both worlds. The over-the-top silliness of “Resident Evil” or even “Mortal Kombat” would be preferable to this self-serious slog.

Assassin's Creed Michael Fassbender Callum Lynch Feature

THR - Harry Windsor

The year 2016 has been full of surprises, so in some ways Assassin's Creed, Hollywood's latest attempt to mine gold from an industry that rakes in more dough than it does, is a reassuring tonic: Video game adaptations remain plodding affairs. Directed by Australian helmer Justin Kurzel, reuniting with his Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, Assassin’s Creed is resolutely stone-faced, ditching the humdrum quips that are par for the course in today's blockbusters. But this is almost two hours of convoluted hokum that might have benefited from a few self-deflating jabs.

The Guardian - Peter Bradshaw

You can imagine each of [Assassin's Creed's] stars – [Michael] Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Essie Davis – [being confused] while looking through the script, before being directed to the fee on the last page of their contract. It’s an action movie, with dollops of thriller and splodges of Dan Brown conspiracy; and hardly five minutes go by without someone in a monk’s outfit doing a bit of sub-parkour jumping from the roof of one building to another. And yet it is at all times mysteriously, transcendentally boring.

Uproxx - Mike Ryan

Do you like Paul WS Anderson movies? Maybe you do. That’s your choice and that’s between you and your god. If you do like Paul WS Anderson movies — movies like Resident Evil and Pompeii — you might like Assassin’s Creed. I’m being serious. It’s like a pretty well done Paul WS Anderson movie, only starring one of the best actors in the world, stripped of all personality. But Assassin’s Creed was not directed by Paul WS Anderson, it was directed by Justin Kurzel – who directed Fassbender in last year’s Macbeth and who I now have to assume has seen a lot of Paul WS Anderson movies.

And now, for a change of pace from the negative reviews released so far, here is a (somewhat more) positive review for the Assassin's Creed movie adaptation:

IndieWire - David Ehrlich

Few studio offerings of this scale so proudly express the violence of their creative process, so openly confront their genetic makeup in order to become something better than what was written for them. Declaring “Assassin’s Creed” to be the best video game movie ever made is the kind of backhanded compliment that sounds like hyperbole, but the description fits the bill on both counts. Regardless of what you call this peculiar, arrestingly uninviting nonsense, the fact of the matter is that it’s the only blockbuster of 2016 that left me desperate for a sequel.

Assassin's Creed (2016) - Michael Fassbender

Based on these reviews (negative and less-negative alike), it seems that Assassin's Creed boasts handsome production design and slickly-constructed sequences similar to those from Kurzel's Macbeth, as well as that William Shakespeare play adaptation's relentlessly po-faced and self-serious tone - for the worse. It also sounds as though Fassbender delivers the type of committed performance here that everyone has come to expect from the actor, regardless of whether he's appearing in the latest X-Men film or a new offering from 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen. The problem, however, is that all of that is (apparently) in the service of a half-baked narrative, mythology and characters.

Theses results aren't necessarily surprising, as the trailers for Assassin's Creed had (suspiciously) placed far more focus on the film's spectacle and style over its characters or world-building. Fox even released a trailer dedicated solely to explaining the movie's plot not too long ago, suggesting that the studio may have recognized that the film's mythology (which was scripted by several screenwriters over the course of the project's development) was messy enough to need a promo that offers a straight-forward explanation, for those unfamiliar with the original Assassin's Creed games.

In other words: based on word of mouth so far, it sounds as though Assassin's Creed falls into the same boat as Warcraft - a video game adaptation that, like the former, was criticized by many for struggling to translate its source material to the big screen, despite the creative involvement of the original games' developers behind the scenes. The video game movie "curse", it seems, is still alive and well.

NEXT: Assassin's Creed Final Trailer

Source: Various (see the above links)

Key Release Dates
  • Assassin's Creed (2016) release date: Dec 21, 2016
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