Video game movie adaptations aren’t really my thing, and for decades, they haven’t proven to be Hollywood’s thing either.
But throwing a couple of Oscar winners, along with Michael Fassbender and $130 million at “Assassin’s Creed” could have changed that. In theory.
It doesn’t. You kind of figured that out on your own, didn’t you? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
“Creed” is a big screen re-engineering of the wildly popular stab, slash and slice video game about an ancient cult of killers whose creed has them protecting a magical talisman from evildoers who want that talisman to “take away dissent and free will.”
The bad guys are the ancient order of Knights Templar.
So basically we’ve got an “Underworld” movie set in Dan Brown/”Da Vinci Code” universe, where murderous “knights” battle killer ninjas instead of vampires vs. werewolves.
In 1492 Inquisition Era Spain, assorted assassins, including Aguilar (Fassbender) try and prevent Catholic fanatics from getting their hands on the Apple of Eden. The freedom of free thinkers everywhere is at stake.
Centuries later, a boy sees his mother’s lifeless corpse in front of his dad’s bloody blade. That boy grows up to be Cal Lynch (Fassbender again) who is saved from a Texas death by lethal injection to serve this scientist (Marion Cotillard) and an organization led by her father (Jeremy Irons).
Cal is a twitchy convicted killer.
“Why the aggression?”
“I’m an aggressive person.”
The scientist has figured out that he is genetically predisposed to be a murderer, thanks to his relation to that assassin of long ago. But she hasn’t just answered the age-old “nature vs. nurture” question about human violence. She’s found a way to tap into “genetic memory.”
Strap Cal into an umbilical gadget in an arena-like simulation space, and she can make him go back through time, experience what his ancestor did, fighting the Templars. Maybe he’ll “remember” where Aguilar and his fellow assassin (Ariane Labed) hid that apple thingy.
Australian director Justin Kurzel (director of Fassbender’s “Macbeth”) stages Wolverine-gloved ninja brawls and parkour chases through 15th century Spain intercut with shots of Fassbender, shirtless and strapped-in, “experiencing” this action in his simulator while his handlers look on.
The effect of this effect is to ruin any tension built up in the bloody past and bore us to tears with intrigues set in the present. There are other imprisoned “assassins” in this Madrid facility — Michael Kenneth Williams and Brendan Gleeson among them. And there’s an “elder” (Charlotte Rampling) in charge of it all.
Yeah, they’re thinking “franchise” here. Spare no expense.
You can’t really fault the elemental Joseph Campbell “Hero on a quest” storytelling, but the inter-cutting undercuts what little plot there is. The foreshadowing is as obvious as the year the past events are set. Yes, 1492 was the Year of the Reconquista. But who sailed the Ocean Blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two?
And for all the money on crossbow shoot-outs, burning at the stake and recreating pre-Colombian Spain, the settings that stand out are real-world dazzlers, the Alhambra in Granada and the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede in Seville.
Fassbender tries to give this guy some edge, singing Cal’s mom’s favorite Willie Nelson-written Patsy Cline hit “Crazy,” for instance. Yes, he got into shape for the part. But for the first time I can remember, he can’t hide the fact that this is just a paycheck job, with a Spanish vacation thrown in.
Cotillard does a fair job of imitating Irons’ plummy English accent, and nothing more.
It’s all more or less watchable, although certainly of more interest to fans of the game. But that’s using “interest” entirely too loosely for the rest of us. Quest or no quest, cool locations or green screen soundstages, shirtless Fassbender or Fassbender in an assassin’s hoodie, “Assassin’s” never breaks the creed of Hollywood filmed video games — “Action packed, but dull.”
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed, Michael Kenneth Williams, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling
Credits:Directed by Justin Kurzel, script by Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, based on the Ubisoft videogame. A Fox release.
Running time: 1:55