Assassin's Creed (2016)
PG-13 for mostly bloodless murder constantly happening. I know that the Assassin's Creed video games tend to get remarkably violent, but it is that dangerous kind of violence that we tend to ignore because it becomes commonplace. There's also a very dodgey morality in the Assassin's Creed series that implies that religion may be the downfall of all humanity. I mean, as PG-13 as this movie actually is, the higher level complexity of the franchise might really be pulling towards an older demographic. At the end of the day, Assassin's Creed might be a really dark attempt to justify relativism. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Justin Kurzel
I think I know where this one went off the rails. It's hard to vocalize it, but it definitely did go off the rails pretty fast. The thing is, I might be the perfect demographic for this movie. If it wasn't a snow day, there would be a chance that I would be spending my few minutes knocking out one of three Assassin's Creed games I'm currently playing. (If you were wondering, those games were Assassin's Creed: Origins, Assassin's Creed India, and Assassin's Creed III: Liberation). Like, I know this franchise pretty well. Sure, I'm behind because these games are massive and I refuse to only play one franchise until I die, but I think I get it at this point.
When I say that I'm the demographic for the Assassin's Creed movie, I really want to put that not as an age thing, but as a guy who knows his series. This movie was made specifically for me and people like me. We really love this series (despite its very questionable morality) and want to explore the mythology deeper. But...video games already have an uphill battle. With the exception of Sonic the Hedgehog and Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, both movies which happen to have a really light tone and little attachment to deepcut mythology, video game movies tend to...suck? Like, it's kind of a thing at this point. The reason that I can point out Sonic and Pokemon because they are the by-far exception to the rule. So when a movie that comes out that tries to hit every market, from the die hard Assassin's Creed fan to the person who has no idea what's up, it's going to fail pretty darn hard. There are so many moments where I just watched the movie fall flat on its face.
And, really, it's my fault. I know that everyone warned me that this movie was going to eat it pretty hard. When I put it on my Netflix DVD queue, I felt like the streaming service tried to warn me by really stressing how few stars it had. Now, I will say it is a better movie than people are making it out to be. There were moments where I actually found that I was enjoying it. Heck, I don't even regret watching it. But there are so many misfires, most notably the most anticlimactic ending I've ever seen in a movie without winking at the camera. It's a movie that doesn't know what it wants to be except for cool.
Cool is a dangerous goal. There are a handful of movies that went out with the goal to be cool and actually succeeded. Heck, part of me is absolutely terrified to revisit the OG Matrix because I have a feeling that it would be nails on a chalkboard in 2021. (I know the new movie is coming out in theaters and on HBO Max and I know I'm going to watch it on HBO Max...so there's a really good chance that I'm probably going to rewatch the movie in the next few months.) But cool doesn't often really feel that cool. I would compare the final result of Assassin's Creed to someone really swearing that you are going to like a band, but then throwing them into the deep end of the catalogue assuming that they are going to hear the same things that the fan of the band is hearing. It's so awkward. Because Assassin's Creed is begging the audience to like it. I can see why Michael Fassbender took the role, despite being an actor of his stature. At its core, there's a story to be told in Assassin's Creed. And maybe it is because I'm a glutton for punishment, but I think a TV show would service the mythology pretty darned well.
Stick with me here, because here's my elevator pitch for a TV show that would fix a movie that was not worth watching. WandaVision is crushing it right now. It threw viewers, experienced and no, into a world where nothing made sense. Then, in episode four, it decided to explain what was going on in the real world, which contextualized everything. Think about a movie that starts off in 1492 Andalusia. We meet young Aguilar, like a young Ezio Auditore as he learns of the assassins and the world of the Apple of Eden. Then, episode four, Cal Lynch is in prison. Guess what? I just fixed your story. Because, and this is key to my theories about why complex video game movies don't translate, is that these epic video game stories take a long time to unfold. The stories are interesting because information is rewarded for gameplay.
Now, I kind of feel like I'm doing that whole book v. movie argument and I suppose that there's a little bit of crossover there. But with video games, there are long periods where the avatar for your character is performing just an abundance of tasks. I swear that each Assassin's Creed game, the way I play, takes about 100 hours until the end of the game. If I had to summarize the story of each of them, it would take a minute. Yet, these stories feel rich and detailed. I love these stories, despite the fact that I could summarize them in a heartbeat. But when a movie jumps from plot point, there's no real reward for that information.
And then there's the big elephant in the room: Maybe some things just shouldn't be made. Video games have become remarkably impressive. For as much money as the movie industry can make, the video game industry secretly dwarfs that. Video games are cash cows. From what I understand, a company that makes consoles like Microsoft or Sony, actually lose money on these consoles, despite the fact that their price tags are remarkably high. So these games need to look amazing. Assassin's Creed: Origins (reminder: the game I'm currently invested in) is too big and too impressive. I'm actually needing to take regular breaks from it because I feel like I'm barely making a dent in this massive open world. I understand the next entry in the franchise, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is even bigger. But we don't really need these games because it's not about the cool violence. Yeah, when I'm playing a game and I see my character do an amazing action move, it's great. But it's because I'm doing that move. But watching real people mimic those moves? It just feel cold and distant. It's watching a stunt show, not imbuing these characters with our own characteristics.
Because that's what a video game is all about. It's about control. It's about making choices. Those violent outcomes come from the decision to make those violent moves.
Two things about this specific movie though. When I read that the majority of the movie would take place in 2016 as opposed to 1492, I originally was really skeptical. The Desmond sections of the video games were interesting from a narrative perspective, but weren't why you bought the game. But for a movie about Assassin's Creed, I kind of see the logic. It's very imperfect. Part of me wanted to see more of Spain, subtitles and all. After all, I couldn't help but make a mental comparison to The Fountain, one of my favorite movies. Like, it's that, only worse. But it did kind of make the movie a story to watch. I am pretty sure that the movie exists in the world of the video game, so for me, the movie only adds to the rich (okay, it might not add) tapestry of the games, giving me more insight into the story.
But the second thing I wanted to discuss is the fact that the Templars, according to the movie, only seem to be bad guys because they look like bad guys. It's really hard to sell assassins as heroes. They are guarding the Apple of Eden, which is cool. But what makes them heroes? The Templars are bad guys because they want to hack free will. Yeah, that's bad and I totally agree with that being bad. But it seems that they are doing it simply to curb violent impulses. Okay, I'm still on the Assassin's team if it just came down to that. But it doesn't. Because the Assassins really come across as extremists in the movie. They are okay with any kind of collateral damage for the sake of this mission. (See, now I'm traipsing into Assassin's Creed: Rogue territory.) What really makes them heroes? They seem extremely self-involved. And the Creed constantly stressing the complete lack of a code seems kind of hypocritical.
Also, why is the female bad guy always the weak link? I mean, it ultimately doesn't matter because the only thing you need to the big bad guy is stab him secretly. Why not take down all of the Templars?
Yeah, the movie sucks. I wish it didn't. Again, a TV show might have serviced it better, but I don't need more TV, especially an Assassin's Creed TV show. But this is a bad idea all around. At least don't make it cool. Just focus on characters and storytelling. If there was any more slo-mo, I would lose my mind.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.