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Great cast can’t save ‘Assassin’s Creed’

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Video game adaptation an unengaging experience

The ability to make good video game movies has largely eluded the powers that be in Hollywood. The translation rarely seems to work, and even when it does, it’s still a largely limited one.

The latest attempt to create media franchise cross-pollination is “Assassin’s Creed,” based on the popular video game series of the same name. And while it can’t entirely compensate for its flaws, it manages to be one of the better examples of the genre. It’s a low bar, but this movie clears it.

Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender, “The Light Between Oceans”) is a career criminal being put to death for murder; instead of dying, he is spirited away and revived by the mysterious Abstergo Industries, a massive corporation that also happens to be the modern-day incarnation of the Templar Order.

He has been rescued to take part in something called the Animus Project. Dr. Sophia Rikken (Marion Cotillard, “Allied”) is the lead scientist on the project; it’s aim is to locate the fabled Apple of Eden, an artifact they believe contains the genetic basis for free will. Animus will do so by following the genetic memories of direct descendants of the Assassins of centuries past.

Cal’s ancestor is Aguilar de Nerha, the Assassin who was the last known to possess the Apple. So Dr. Rikken hooks him up to a machine that takes him back to Aguilar’s life during the Inquisition of the 15th century, where he relives the events involving the Apple as his ancestor.

But there are suspect motives at the top. Dr. Alan Rikken (Jeremy Irons, “Race”) – the head of the project and Sophia’s father – has his own reasons for wanting to procure the Apple for the Elder Council or whatever it’s called. Those suspicions are amplified by the distrust expressed by the many Assassins who are also being kept in the lab.

It’s up to Cal to determine who to believe – and whether he can live up to the spirit from which he has descended.

Honestly, it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that “Assassin’s Creed” is a good movie, because I don’t believe that it is. However, in terms of video game movies, it’s actually a solid effort. Again, calling something a “good video game movie” is damning with faint praise, but it’s not nothing.

At first glance, Justin Kurzel’s an odd choice for a gig like this one – his previous work was the excellent 2015 adaptation of “Macbeth” starring Fassbender in the title role and Cotillard as his wife – but he showed a grasp of the action of that time period that translated well to this film. He’s got a gift for capturing brutality and was surprisingly comfortable with the CGI stuff.

And of course, there’s that cast. That unbelievable cast. The idea of all of these names attached to a video game movie remains astonishing to me. Cotillard and Irons both have Oscars and Fassbender’s been nominated twice. Plus, you’ve got crazy talent in the supporting cast – also-nominated Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”) is here, as are acclaimed character actor Brendan Gleeson and Emmy nominee (and Omar from “The Wire”) Michael Kenneth Williams.

Look at that list of names. Unbelievable. It’s like the shuttle from the airport dropped the cast off at the wrong studio. This is the ensemble for a serious Oscar-baity film about mid-century social class clashes, not a movie based on a video game where a guy kills people with knife parkour. But they’re all here. And they’re all taking it more or less seriously.

But ultimately, the convoluted and spottily coherent narrative did them all in.

Fassbender’s got Magneto in his back pocket, so playing some superhuman weirdo is no big thing for him. He does his best with some unfortunate dialogue and looks good with his shirt off. Cotillard is always good; she’s game here too – she’s got super experience of her own - but the thinness of the character lets her down a bit.

(I think we can all assume that Fassbender and Cotillard must have had a REALLY positive working experience with Justin Kurzel.)

Jeremy Irons is at about 80 percent in this one, not totally caring but also being pleased at how big a check he can get for slumming a bit. It’s fine – 80 percent Irons is plenty for this. Gleeson is awesome in a couple of scenes and Rampling is suitably dour and Williams is disarmingly good in a weirdly constructed role.

“Assassin’s Creed” isn’t that good, but by the low bar set by its predecessors, it’s a successful effort. Decent action and a wildly talented cast mask some of the issues, but they can’t fully overcome a story with neither stakes nor sense.

[1.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Friday, 23 December 2016 14:49

2 comments

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