Assassin’s Creed

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendon Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams

Director: Justin Kurzel

Writers: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage


Video games are unique in that filmmakers seem utterly incapable of making great movies based on them. The most successful recent adaptation that I can think of is Warcraft, a film that I personally enjoyed and felt was very faithful to its source material but which many justifiably criticised for being too cluttered and underwhelming. After decades of trying (and in many cases failing miserably) no one has yet been able to pull off an all-out successful marriage between the two mediums. Maybe its because some of the filmmakers don’t respect the source material and are simply looking to cash in on its popularity. Maybe it’s because video games are often so heavily action-driven and so light on story that they don’t easily lend themselves towards adaptation. Maybe it’s because some genres, like the FPS, tend to place such little emphasis on the characters that the films end up having little to work with. And yet Assassin’s Creed is a popular, acclaimed franchise that provides both a story and characters for the film to work, modify and expand on. So why is this film such an abject failure?

In 2016, Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is sentenced to death but is rescued from his execution by the Abstergo Foundation. The CEO Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), also a leading Templar, is searching for the Apple, which holds the genetic code for free will, and believes that Cal is the key to his search. His daughter and head scientist Sofia (Marion Cotillard) reveals that Cal is the descendant of Aguilar de Nerha (also Fassbender), a 15th century assassin. By persuading him to use the animus, a machine that reads the genetic memory of its host, it is hoped that Cal’s ancestor will lead them to the Apple. Thus the film is taken to Spain in 1492 where the Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is caught up in the Grenada War. There Aguilar and his partner Maria (Ariane Labed) must combat the Templars and locate the Apple in order to keep its secrets safe from those who would misuse it.

Sometimes when a video game movie fails, it’s because the filmmakers just don’t get what it was about the game that attracted people in the first place. It may look the part and sound like it too, but without that vital ingredient it will inevitably disappoint and feel flat. Case in point: a considerable portion of the film’s story is focused on the events of the present, which was literally no one’s favourite part of the game. Yes, I get that the film wants to explore questions and ideas about free will, but the game itself was able to do that well enough without bogging itself down in exposition and presenting subplots about the death of the main character’s mother or the bureaucracy of the Templar’s organisation. Desmond Miles wasn’t the character that all the gamers loved, it was Altaïr and Ezio and all the other assassins in the franchise. In this film we barely get to know Aguilar or his compatriots because we don’t get to spend enough time with them. Maybe that would’ve been fine if the present’s story was more interesting than the past’s, but it wasn’t.

The film reunites Fassbender and Cotillard with Justin Kurzel and Michael Lesslie, with whom they worked on a stunning adaptation of Macbeth. This film holds itself with a similar level of seriousness but is often too dull or ridiculous for the tone to work. The characters are all too busy dispensing overblown, nonsensical exposition for them to display any semblance of a personality. The film trudges along so slowly with such a ceaseless array of conversations spouting vaguely important sounding dialogue that even Shyamalan would find it convoluted. Honestly, a time travelling movie about assassins does not need to be this solemn or serious (the games certainly weren’t). There are a few instances of what I suppose ought to be called fight scenes except that they’re so tediously choreographed, I’m not sure whether the term should apply. With its drab colour palette and tiresome action, there is nothing visually engaging about this film.

This film has made the same mistake that countless others have made whenever they’ve struggled to have something childish or ridiculous taken seriously. They overcompensated and made it pretentious, hollow and boring. There is no life in this film; no colour, no personality, no energy, no anything. The Assassin’s Creed games were often ridiculous, but they were also engaging, lively and fun. As a film lover I found this movie to be without merit; there was nothing compelling about its story or characters, there was nothing spectacular about its action or production, and after it was done I found nothing memorable or worthwhile to take away. As someone who has played and enjoyed the games, I was greatly disappointed that the same property could produce something so critically lacking in inspiration, imagination and animation. Whatever this X factor is that makes video game adaptations immune to great cinema is anybody’s guess, but it’s definitely had its effect on this attempt.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoë Kravitz, Maggie Q, Ray Stevenson, Bill Skarsgård, Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts

Director: Robert Schwentke

Writers: Stephen Chbosky, Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Noah Oppenheim


A typical problem with film franchises based on novels that decide to split their final instalments into two separate parts is that the first half tends to suffer because of it. When the Harry Potter series did it first, and then The Hunger Games afterwards, both of their penultimate chapters served only to set up the finale and therefore did not stand up as individual films with their own self-contained stories. Although I like both of these franchises, watching the first halves of their final episodes proved to be quite tiresome as they required me to sit through two hours of a non-story in order to reach the good parts. When I have to watch that kind of movie in a franchise that I don’t even like, it becomes the Chinese Water Torture. That, in a nutshell, is how I felt watching Allegiant.

Following the insurgency in the previous film and the revelation of an outside colony overseeing their city, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Christina (Zoë Kravitz) and Peter (Miles Teller) escape Chicago to seek them out. After venturing into the wasteland that is the world outside their city, the group are discovered by soldiers who escort them to the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. There Tris meets David (Jeff Daniels) who explains that Chicago is an experiment designed to fix the damaged genes of their people by isolating them in the hopes that they can eventually birth individuals of genetic purity, the divergents. Tris is told that she alone is pure while the rest of her people are all “damaged”. David explains that he hopes to use Tris to find the answers to their problems and to save their people. Meanwhile Chicago continues to grow restless under the rule of Evelyn (Naomi Watts) as Johanna (Octavia Spencer) and the Allegiant try to stop her from overthrowing the factions and imposing a ruthless dictatorship.

The Divergent series has never made much sense to me with its factions and convoluted rules and whatnot, but this whole idea of genetic experimentation just did my head in. As Jeff Daniels adopted his ‘I am definitely not a villain’ expression and explained to Tris the particulars of their history and the reasons behind the experiment, I gave up on trying to care about four sentences in. While I had my issues with The Hunger Games, at least that series knew to keep things simple. Divergent gets so bogged down in longwinded exposition and feeble explanations that I almost felt like I was watching a Wachowski movie (at least then I might have been treated to some impressive visuals and decent action). It doesn’t help to have a plot that refuses to move along and advance as the themes of rebellion from Insurgent get played out all over again. Most of what happens in the outside world consists of Tris and her friends sitting on their hands as they wait for the film’s two-hour runtime to expire so that the next movie can finally begin. This film has all the aimlessness and confusion of the first two films with an extra dose of mind-numbing boredom thrown in.

Over the course of this franchise Shailene Woodley’s performance has been its one consistent saving grace as she manages to breathe life into what is otherwise a bland and characterless protagonist. In this film however Woodley’s acting abilities cannot do anything for the fact that her character is given almost nothing to do. Most of her screen-time is dedicated towards disinterested conversations between her and David about genes and human nature and how special she is until she proceeds to take part in a climax that I would have called underwhelming if I had actually had any expectations or investment. I genuinely hope this film at least propels Woodley to stardom the same way The Hunger Games did for Jennifer Lawrence because she deserves far better than this. In fact, the rest of this franchise’s cast (minus Jai Courtney) deserve better.

While watching these finale-part-one movies has consistently proven to be a largely dull and tedious experience, at least with Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay I was invested enough in the franchises to follow them through and in the end found the ultimate payoff to be satisfying. This film however has taken everything that I already disliked about the Divergent series and turned it up to 11. The constant exposition dumps, the one-dimensional characters that put great talent to waste, the sheer absence of any sort of inspiration or originality; Allegiant brings all of these elements into full force. Standing as what is easily the weakest instalment in what is already a weak franchise, I can only hope that the climax they are building up to in Ascendant proves to be extraordinary. I won’t be holding my breath though.