FILM REVIEW – ASSASSIN’S CREED. With Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Brendan Gleeson. Written by Michael Lesslie and Adam Cooper & Bill Collage. Directed by Justin Kurzel. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language. 115 minutes.
Based on the popular video game series, ASSASSIN’S CREED is entertaining claptrap, helped immesurably by impressive stuntwork and special effects, and a cast much too good for this sort of material. When you have actors like Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons on hand, you know they’re going to take things seriously, even if it doesn’t deserve it.
The premise is that back in the 15th century, the Knights Templar and the Church sought something called the Apple of Eden which, we’re told, gives its possessor the ability to wipe out human free will. It was in the hands of the last sultan to hold power in Muslim Spain, under the protection of the Assassins, a group of defenders who vow to fight to the death to prevent the Apple from falling the wrong hands.
In the present, a Templar project headed by Rikkin (Irons) and his daughter Sofia (Cotillard) has been looking for descendants of the old Assassins and then send them back into the minds of their ancestors in hopes of discovering what became of the Apple. Their latest subject is a murderer named Cal Lynch (Fassbender), who is spirited away from Texas to Spain after his execution. There he is resuscitated and made to go back in time.
The gimmickry is quite clever, as he is wired up like a human marionette so that he can relive the battles in the laboratory while experiencing them in the past. Unfortunately for Rikkin, the head of the Templars (Charlotte Rampling) has informed him he’s about to lose his funding, so they need to get results fast. Meanwhile, other people being held at the facility (including Brendan Gleeson and Michael K. Williams) seem to know more about what’s going on than Sofia is telling Cal.
Much of the film has Cal back in the past as an Assassin named Aguilar, battling the Knights in an impressive series of action set pieces that seem to indicate he was the first practitioner of parkour in medieval Spain as he runs and leaps across rooftops and the sides of buildings. Many will die–in the past and the present–as the battle for possession of the Apple plays out.
Amazingly, the actors are able to do all this with straight faces given just how much the audience has to suspend their disbelief. Fassbender–who has played in everything from arthouse fare to young Magneto in the “X-Men” movies–is solid as the hero who may be as unstable as some of the people he’s fighting. The rest of the cast doesn’t seem to worry about the overall plot of the movie, instead simply focusing on putting over whatever they’re required to do in a given scene. As a result, one is hardpressed to imagine any of them trumpeting their work here in going for future roles. All of them have already done much more impressive work elsewhere.
Still there’s not much in the way of action films this season (unless one includes “Patriots Day” which certainly won’t play that way here), and so “Assassin’s Creed” fills a niche. It does what it has to do for its target audiece, but isn’t likely to reach out beyond that.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.