‘Assassin’s Creed’ Has Odd Breeding for a Movie

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CHICAGO – I’m not a gamer, but of course I’ve heard about “Assassin’s Creed.” The film based on the video game is a wild and undisciplined attempt to expand that particular universe, but does succeed in creating an oddball science fiction that has implications in geo-religious power and control.

It is the combination of game and story that nearly does both sides in, but there is just enough to keep the intrigue intact. The high octane story from director Justin Kurzel – who used lead performers Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in his adaptation of “Macbeth” in 2015 – manages a symbolic story about duality, technology and megalomania, while barely clinging to any of it making sense. There are crazy visuals, overwrought action and knocks on religion aplenty, which sets it apart both as a video game adaptation and creative use of a dystopian prophecy. Part Indiana Jones, part “Fail Safe” and all weird, “Assassin’s Creed” does qualify as a kaleidoscope of craziness.

The film starts with an execution. Convicted felon Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is about to die by lethal injection, but once the sentence is carried out, instead he wakes up in another place. It turns out his DNA is part of a warrior lineage – bound by an “Assassin’s Creed” – which is traced back to 1492 Spain. The institute he is in, run by Alan Rifkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter Sophia (Marion Cotillard), is searching for the “Apple of Eden” the key to a person’s free will (the fruit was used to symbolize Adam and Eve’s fall from grace and God).

Michael Fassbender as Aguilar in ‘Assassin’s Creed’
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

To get to the Apple, the institute hooks Callum to a bizarre machine, which has him act out his warrior tendencies from the past, as the assassin Aguilar. They closely observe his journey, as the outcome of finding the Apple will rid the world of violence. But Callum is also linked to his present past life, which featured a father (Brendan Gleeson) who murdered his mother. All these conflicts will play into the pursuit of the Apple, and the destiny of humankind.

Much like the Ark of the Covenant in the first Indiana Jones film, the “Apple” becomes the object of desire – although it wasn’t exactly clear what it was suppose to do. In looking up the explanation for the game, it’s apparent that the Assassins are protectors and the Templars are controllers, and that the Apple’s possessors can manipulate free will. This is buried beneath the layers of copious and rapid action in the film, and it’s not clear who is the “good guy” until near the end. This works fine, but the fuzziness of purpose confuses the motivations.

The always intense Michael Fassbender gets to ratchet up his high-flying character as both Callum and Aguilar. This is a highly physical role with lots of acrobatics and fight sequences, and Fassbender seemed to want to push the needle off the grid in every scene, even the non-action ones. Marion Cotillard, unrecognizable as a raven-haired brunette, barely gets to do anything except watch Fassbender. Jeremy Irons is perfect as the is-he-evil-or-not scientist, because his character makes a lot of “Jeremy Irons” speeches.

Sophia (Marion Cotillard) Preps Callum (Fassbender) for Adventures in ‘Assassin’s Creed’
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

There is a historical element to the film. Let’s see, Spain in 1492? Didn’t somebody sail the ocean blue? Yes, Christopher Columbus figures in the plot, but rather obliquely. The strongest sense of history, and what is happening in contemporary society, is the clash of religions over the Apple. The Christians were in the midst of the Inquisition in the late 1400s – which was to establish a Catholic orthodoxy over Judaism and Islam – and the Apple is in the possession of Sultan Muhammad XII. So again, the suspicions and paranoia of the Christian world clashes with the absolutions of other faiths.

“Assassin’s Creed” is being raked over the critical coals this holiday season, perhaps because it doesn’t satisfy the gamers, and the non-gamers don’t understand what the fuss is all about. But there is enough in the story to cling to, and enough relatable contemporary symbolism to take a bite. That bite would be from the Apple, which gives you free will to plunk down the price of admission.

”Assassin’s Creed” opened everywhere on December 21st. Featuring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Michael K. Williams and Charlotte Rampling. Screenplay adapted by Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage. Directed by Justin Kurzel. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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