For years now, people have been talking about a video game-to-movie adaptation curse. Strings of disappointments that have failed to please fans, wow critics and light up the box-office. With the increasing success of comic book movies, gamers have been waiting with bated breath for an adaptation to come forward and break the mold, a movie that would live up to the potential of its namesake and start a new, more hopeful trend.
These people were looking to the “Assassin’s Creed” movie to break this curse. Alas, the movie got mauled by critics and most fans just chalked it up as another mediocre disappointment. But we here at CBR would like to come out of the woodwork and say that the hate this movie got from both critics and fans is totally undeserved. Not only is it a beautiful, thrilling film, it has managed to break the video game curse and no one seemed to notice. Read on to find out what makes “Assassin’s Creed” — released on home formats this month — a great movie.
15. MICHAEL FASSBENDER
Michael Fassbender is one of those actors who would be thrilling to watch reading a phone book out loud. He brings gravitas and credibility to any scene he finds himself in, which is why it was an exciting prospect to have him play the lead both in the present and flashback sequences of the movie. And, surprising absolutely no one, Fassbender delivered in spades, proving himself as much a star in the emotional moments as in the action sequences.
As both producer and actor on the project, Fassbender really believed in the role and understood what the fans loved about the games. He brought his all into it. He learned parkour and martial arts to perform nearly 95% of the stunts. It’s not every actor that brings this level of dedication to a role in a video game movie, but thankfully the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise has Michael Fassbender in its corner to elevate the acting to a whole new level.
14. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY
From the opening sequence all the way to the very last shot of the film, “Assassin’s Creed” is a gorgeous movie to look at. The past sequences are shot and dominated in hues of yellows and browns, and it contrasts nicely with the cold whites of the present scenes. The overhead shots of Spain at war are just as visually stunning as a quiet sequence where Cal walks around the Abstergo walls, seeing some of the other subjects standing in a garden.
The action sequences are all brilliantly and meticulously shot, the camera following along cleanly and the action slowing down in the right moments to highlight a particularly impressive moment. Whether it’s Cal plugging into the Animus or both Aguilar and Maria standing on rooftops with their arms outstretched, the movie is chock-full of stunning imagery that gave the movie its own stylish look. A look that wasn’t necessarily part of the “Assassin’s Creed” games, but one that walks along with them perfectly.
13. THE MACBETH TEAM REUNITED
In 2015, a new cinematic adaptation of the Shakespeare play “Macbeth” was released, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the titular roles of King and Lady. Directed by Justin Kurzel, the movie was a particularly dark and brutal take on an already dark and brutal play and was praised by most critics. Despite failing to be a box-office success, this movie is largely viewed as a greatly acted take on the Macbeth story.
Kurzel, Fassbender and Cotillard were then reunited to bring what they had learned from their previous production into the “Assassin’s Creed” movie. With epic and beautifully shot war sequences, complicated relationships for Fassbender and Cotillard’s characters and their parents, quests for power, vengeance and a thirst for blood, one can easily see the Shakespearean inspiration at work in “Assassin’s Creed.” Sure the movie is a lot more fantastical in nature, but the drama and style remained, as well as the character work and the acting.
12. PRESENT/FLASHBACK BALANCE
Ask anyone who has played an “Assassin’s Creed” game and they will most likely tell you that the scenes set in the present are boring, as they take away from the actual gaming in the past. It’s a valid criticism, considering that all the action occurs in these past sequences. It’s the bulk and spine of any game in the franchise. However, the movie was always going to be different. Where the scenes in the present can be nothing more than an afterthought in a game, they were crucial to the film.
While a game can focus on action and less on story, a movie simply cannot work that way. The present is where we are introduced to the characters, and where the story actually is, which is why there would always be more of it in the movie. The past sequences are set pieces that serve the larger story, instead of the other way around. They give you the information you need, and work to evolve the character of Cal. And even considering all of that, the past and present sequences are very well balanced, contrary to what some may believe.
11. THE SPANISH INQUISITION SETTING
Every “Assassin’s Creed” game was set in a different time period, from the Italian Renaissance to the French Revolution. But rather than adapt a time that had already been explored in the games, the movie smartly opted to explore a setting that hadn’t been touched upon yet: the Spanish Inquisition. That way, the movie didn’t have to play on pre-conceived notions from the fans of the games and instead the director was given a clean slate to develop a new story.
The movie doesn’t take the time to establish the time period or what the source of the conflict was. It simply drops you into the middle of the Granada War, much like Callum Lynch. Never once does the movie go into preaching territory. It prefers to highlight the horrors of these wars and the men that started them. Besides, the fact that every character in the past actually speaks Spanish with English subtitles was a smart decision that adds to the realism of the setting. This is not a history lesson, but more a vehicle to something we have rarely seen displayed on the screen before.
10. THE BLEEDING EFFECT
A man plugs into a machine that allows him to relieve his ancestor’s memories locked inside his DNA. As the basic premise of both the movie and the games, it could have been easy to go straight to the action and just leave it at that. But just like in the games, the movie introduced the psychological effects of using such a machine. Visions of Cal’s ancestor, Aguilar, quickly started to appear, haunting him like a ghost and playing with his mind.
Not only do we see those visions, we also see the toll it takes on Cal. After a few trips in the Animus, we can see that it’s starting to affect him psychologically when he begins frantically singing, crying and laughing all at the same time. Experiencing two lives at the same time, both blending into one another is something that should be explored, and the movie doesn’t shy away from showing that using the Animus can have dangerous consequences.
9. THE ASSASSIN LEGACY
Another big difference between the games and the movie is that, in the games, users were mostly alone in the present. While the Desmond Miles character had his little team of scientists and hackers, he was the only Assassin featured in the present, learning more and more skills from his time in the Animus. Whereas in the movie, we see that an organization as big as the Assassins had many descendants. With all of them locked up in Abstergo along with Cal, we see the Assassin legacy in full effect.
Starting with Cal’s mother and father, we learn that the Assassins are still active in the present day and that they are still waging a battle against the Templars who are now hiding under the Abstergo banner. That is a departure from the story we know from the video games, where the Assassins are nowhere to be seen. The ending of the movie leaves us with the prospect of Cal and his Assassin friends ready to protect the Apple, and mankind once again, this time in the modern day.
8. THE COSTUMES
Ever since the first “Assassin’s Creed” video game, the costumes have been iconic to the franchise. From Altaïr to Edward and Arno, the Assassins have all had a signature garb complete with a hoodie that has become synonymous with the games. Creating a costume for Aguilar, one that looked both functional and honored the Assassin’s Creed legacy wasn’t going to be easy, and yet the costume department of the movie managed to succeed in that aspect, giving the main characters phenomenal outfits.
Choosing not to use the more usual white color scheme that was associated with the earlier characters, Aguilar and Maria’s Assassins costumes have more muted colors, a mix of dark browns and sand colors, with a slight hint of red as a callback to the original video game costumes. These colors help the characters blend into their environment instead of standing out, something that makes sense considering these are people hiding among the crowds.
7. CALLUM LYNCH’S STORY
Starting in 1986, we are introduced to a young Callum Lynch who returns home to find his mother dead and his father seemingly responsible. Then, in the present, Cal is facing execution. When he wakes up however, he is in Abstergo’s care and is asked to take part in their research to end all violence in the world. Cal goes through a lot in this movie, from facing his death to confronting his father whom he believed had killed his mother.
While he blamed the Assassins for everything and vowed to end them, his connection to his ancestor finally showed him all that he needed to know and understand about who they were and what they believed in. Only then did he decide to accept his role and become an Assassin himself like his parents before him. It’s a complicated and very emotional story for one character to go through. We see and feel his torment, and we cheer along as he fully embraces his destiny.
6. EMBRACES THE SILLIER ASPECTS OF THE GAME
Some of the early reviews of the movie highlighted the silliness of some of the basics of the movie, like the characters being after something called the Apple of Eden. But as longtime players of the video game know, the Apple is crucial to the story. It’s something that has been at the center of the franchise for a long time and something that couldn’t be forgotten when it came to the movies.
On the contrary, the fact that the filmmakers decided to embrace all of the “sillier” aspects of the games is what makes the movie great. It didn’t shy away from the Animus or the basic premise of the ancient rivalry between the Templars and the Assassins, or the use of the hidden blades. If all of this was established and understood, why should a mystical Apple that can bend the people’s will suddenly be too much to believe? “Assassin’s Creed” remains a movie that hails from a video game, so there is going to be some inherent silliness that comes with it. And that’s a good thing.
5. A DYNAMIC TWIST TO THE ANIMUS
In the video game, plugging into the Animus basically meant sitting down on a chair. It’s a very static approach, but it works as a game, since the user is then taken into the past. With the movie, the viewers followed Cal in his story, and in his trip to the past dually. By choosing to change the design of the Animus, the director managed to transform what could have been static scenes into a dynamic system that showed us Cal interacting with his environment to recreate the moments he was reliving.
This addition to the Animus technology gave us the chance to not only see the character live out his ancestor’s memories, but also made it all the more believable that he was unlocking and learning those skills that he had inside of him. Instead of having Desmond Miles simply saying that he had learned to do what his ancestor could in the games, the movie used a more practical way to show that to the viewers, something that then gave more credibility to how the movie would end.
4. BREATHTAKING ACTION SEQUENCES
This is an aspect where the movie went all in. With a gameplay that mainly featured free-running, fighting and using a hidden blade to assassinate targets, the producers of the movie knew going in that fans would have high expectations for the action sequences of the film. Thankfully, they proved to us that we had absolutely nothing to worry about with prolonged scenes that featured everything the players loved from the games. Scenes that completely took our breath away.
We followed along as Maria and Aguilar ran over rooftops, slicing their way through an army’s worth of soldiers. The choreography was stunning and the parkour meticulous. Hand-to-hand fighting, swords, spears, and bows – there is nothing that wasn’t used by the Assassins. The movie went to great lengths to show us what they were capable of, and the actors and stunt teams gave us spectacular chases and battle scenes that could live up to the standards of the games.
3. THE FINE LINE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL
At the center of the movie lies a conflict, one that is believed to be very black and white. On one side, there are the Templars, who want to control the will of humanity, and on the other are the Assassins, who fight so that humanity may be free. However, the movie presents this war with all the shades of grey it deserves. Considering that the heroes of the movie are literally Assassins, it’s no wonder that the story can sometimes make you wonder who is right and who should actually win.
At the center of this conflict is Cal, who starts by helping Abstergo before ultimately joining the ranks of the Assassins. It’s then that he eliminates Jeremy Irons’ character in order to protect humanity. That scene is presented not as a triumph, however, but as a very somber victory, something regrettable that needs to be done. This is highlighted by Marion Cotillard’s Sophia, who lets Cal kill her father, but also seemingly swears to avenge him. The ending to this dark movie is rightfully dark in its own right, and it shows that saving humanity comes at a cost. As the Assassins say, “We work in the dark to serve the light.”
2. THE LEAP OF FAITH
The leap of faith is a signature move for the entire series. It doesn’t involve any fighting or assassinating, and yet it’s one of the most recognizable aspects of the games. Climbing up to the highest point in an area, the user is prompted to synchronize. Then, once a grand view of the surrounding area is unlocked, the user performs a massive jump – a leap of faith – all the way down into a neatly placed pile of hay. Going into this movie, the producers couldn’t ignore this staple of the franchise.
To bring this visceral, spectacular jump to life, the producers opted to go practical instead of digital. To do so, Michael Fassbender’s stunt double performed six separate jumps to get the look just right. The first was done at 70 feet, building in increments to 110, and the final jump was performed at a whopping 125 feet, to bring the stunt among the highest ever performed in the last 35 years. As we all saw in the movie, the astonishing results speak for themselves.
1. AGUILAR AND MARIA
Before the release of “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate,” users got used to using only one Assassin in any given game. But rather than have Aguilar go at it alone, we were also introduced to Maria, a great character in her own right. As the flashback scenes that featured them focused heavily on action, they were both characters of few words. Not much was said between them, verbally anyway, and yet the communication and connection between them was strong. Palpable even.
By pairing the two together, we were allowed as an audience to connect with them in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if we were watching only one quiet character. Together, they made us fear for their safety, they made us cheer through their assisted takedowns and they made our hearts break when they sacrificed everything for each other. Maria may not have been marketed as a main character, but she has earned her place in the Assassin legacy just as much as Aguilar has.
What did you think of the “Assassin’s Creed” movie? Be sure to let us know in the comments.