Director: Justin Kurzel
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard
2 (out of 5) Globes
“I have to report to the elders.” It’s not exactly Shakespeare. The stars and maker of “Assassin’s Creed” ought to know: The last time Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and director Justin Kurzel teamed up, it was for last year’s grim and gloomy (even for “Macbeth”) film of “Macbeth.” How they wound up immediately reuniting for a video game movie about a knife fanatic skulking about circa the Spanish Inquisition is a mystery for the cosmos. Even they seem confused. It’s as though they were in a real-life body-swapping comedy from the ’80s, finding themselves sudddenly tasked with making a blockbuster from a game with which none of them was familiar.
There’s a lot to snicker at in “Assassin’s Creed,” though maybe — to tinker with a quote from “Ghost World”’s Enid Coleslaw — it’s so bad it goes past good but not quite back to bad again. There’s something sublimely ridiculous about a movie that begins with one of those instantly confusing text crawls, this one about the Knights Templar; where great actors (who, again, had just done the Bard) are forced to say things like, “The apple, it’s in your grasp!”; where the hero’s mission eventually involves a trip to Christopher Columbus’ tomb. It’s like a Uwe Boll video game movie (see: “Alone in the Dark,” “Bloodrayne”) only with first-rate production values and actors who are the opposite of washed-up.When Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling saunter in as the king and queen of evil or whatever, it’s hard to write it off as your normal everyday shambles.
Whatever it is, it’s barely an “Assassin’s Creed” movie. After a moody, semi-comprehensible opener in 15th century Andalusia — if we hated this film more, the hed of this piece would definitely be “An Andalusian Dog” (for film nerds) — the film jumps first to 1986, then to 2016. Our hero isn’t some hooded hitman from centuries past; he’s Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a death row inmate from the now who is only related to one. Our brooding hero finds himself in a far-flung secret lab run by a stern, finely bobbed scientist (Marion Cotillard). She’s invented a way to tap into the memories of ancestors, and wants to use Callum to tap into the ass-kicker deep down on his genetic tree. While strapped into a contraption that looks like the mechanical arm in a bowling alley claw game, he can both see the past through his own eyes and act it out, stabbing and lunging and doing parkour about old buildings — i.e., the only parts of the movie that have much to do with the game.
To break it down, what you’re essentially doing as a filmgoer is watching a guy act out a video game that was already played by someone else. And it only happens thrice.The bulk of the film is cutscenes — long, murky, impenetrable, humorless cutscenes that just happen to star about six of the most brilliant actors alive. (Michael K. Williams also files time, and when Brendan Gleeson swings by for a couple scenes, he’s so stiff that he looks like he was digitally animated à la the late Peter Cushing in “Rogue One.”) Judging from everyone’s serious faces, you can tell cast and filmmakers sat around, discussing heavy philosophical musings that were then pulped into a mess by a bonkers script. It’s telling that the one intentional gag involves our frazzled hero bellowing, “What the f— is going on?” I mean, the joke writes itself.
As it wears on, “Assassin’s Creed”’s byzantine plot makes a bit more sense, while also going far, far afield, eventually revealing itself to be something or other about Adam and Eve’s apple being used to destroy humankind’s capacity for free will. It’s the rare video game movie that would be confusing even if you played the source. Not since the “Super Mario Bros.” film — with Dennis Hopper as a man-dinosaur and people turned into fungi — has a film gone so over and beyond to punch up a game too thin for the cinema. It doesn’t deserve its threatened franchise, but not only because it’s all rather silly. It’s better to leave this batty thing alone, like a free-floating curio that will confound and delight bad cinema enthusiasts of the future, whatever that will be.