Big names bring unearned gravitas to video-game tale “Assassin’s Creed”
My first thought, 20 minutes into “Assassin’s Creed” and the sonic assault of the soundtrack’s mix of bombastic guitar riffs and body-blow sound effects: This movie isn’t nearly loud enough. After all, I could still make out some of the dialogue.
My second thought? Nobody goes to a movie like “Assassin’s Creed” for the dialogue.
The director Justin Kurzel’s last film was the excellent and underappreciated “Macbeth,” which boasted a screenplay by William Shakespeare (more or less, courtesy of a smartly abridged adaptation by Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie). Inspired by the popular video game series about a time-traveling assassin, Kurzel and Lesslie are slumming a bit here — abetted by co-writers Adam Cooper and Bill Collage of “Exodus: Gods and Kings” — with a script that fleshes out the game’s backstory about the centuries-old conflict between the heroic Brotherhood of Assassins and the evil Knights Templar with a script that is larded with often turgid (and occasionally unintelligible) declarations of mission and purpose.
Although the movie, like the games, is clearly about little more than fighting — and running, climbing, jumping, kickboxing and bouncing off walls — all that parkour-like action has a lot to do with the search for Adam and Eve’s apple, a relic that’s advertised as holding the secret to world peace. The movie’s hero Cal, a condemned murderer, is the last descendant in the bloodline of the 15th-century Assassins, who have sworn to protect it. A day after he is executed in a Texas prison, Cal awakens to find himself in a mysterious facility in Madrid, where scientists are about to plug him into something called the Animus, transporting him — or, rather, his consciousness — back to Inquisition-era Spain and the body of his ancestor, Aguilar.
Two-time Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender reunites with his “Macbeth” co-star, Oscarwinner Marion Cotillard, as Cal and Sofia, the doctor who is overseeing Cal’s search for the so-called Apple of Eden. Why is a desiccated piece of fruit so important? As nearly as I could figure out, because it contains the genetic code for free will and the cure for human aggression. Its last known whereabouts were with Aguilar.
Other big-name stars appearing in the film include Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling and Brendan Gleeson, all of whom, collectively, lend it a patina of prestige and gravitas that it, for the most part, neither deserves nor even attempts to justify.
Their sacrifice, however, is appreciated.
Pretentious poppycock aside, “Assassin’s Creed” isn’t quite as bad as one might fear, as measured against the abysmal track record of movies inspired by video games. In other words, it’s incrementally more fun than it is silly. And Kurzel certainly knows his way around a camera, aided by “Macbeth” cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, who conjures a pleasingly muted palette of grimy browns and grays for the scenes set in the past, in sharp contrast with the coldly clinical blues and whites of the present day. And the fight choreography, happily, is just coherent enough to make out who’s hitting whom.
Why they’re hitting each other is a whole different story. “What the (bleep) is going on?” says Cal at one point, expressing a sentiment that those in the audience who’ve never picked up an Xbox controller — if they’re think for a second that this movie is for them — will no doubt be asking themselves.
Marion Cotillard, left, helps send Michael Fassbender, right, back in time to fight the evil Knights Templar in “Assassin's Creed.”