Of all the participants in Assassin’s Creed, Michael Fassbender is the one with no-one to blame but himself. He was one of the producers of what has to be the most singular waste of talent I expect to see this year, and he went along with it anyway. It’s a surprising movie in many ways. On the one hand, the main voice cast are wasting time they could have spent on something decent; on the other hand the director apparently shot as much as 80% of the footage with practical effects and somehow found a way to make it look like fuzzy CGI. Only twenty five minutes into the thing I found myself nodding off during an action sequence; I kept waking up when they slowed it down for some more acting.
Which is the weird bit. There’s acting going on in the middle of this thing, because people like Fassbender and Cotillard and Brendan Gleeson can’t just switch off their talent at will. Early on, Fassbender gets executed in a US prison, and we get a wrenching sense of a man trying not to show how terrified he is of what’s coming next. It’s as though he’s read the rest of the script; it’s striking that Fassbender and Cotillard do a lot of their best work when they’re not given any dialogue.
For the rest, it’s a farrago of parkour assisted punchups with people repeatedly diving off bits of landscape and somehow not getting turned into paste at the end of the dive. Because the Assassins do all their work with hoods on, there’s not much sense of character in the combats, and indeed not much sense of what’s going on; early on I started tuning out the action scenes.
The action’s split between the modern day and flashbacks to Spain in 1492. Horrifyingly, the rough historical details for 1492 are more or less right, but they made up for that by using science which makes no sense at all for the modern era. In a leap which would have made Lysenko proud, modern day Templars have figured out how to retrieve the memories of long dead Assassins by interrogating the DNA of their descendants. Even if you buy that, there’s no point in the action where you see the 1492 character DO anything which might have given rise to descendants, but then again, this is bollocks to start with, so why would you want to unpick it at all? Partly because Fassbender said he wanted to do a film with some science in it, and now I really want the Kerry school system audited to see how the hell someone could get through any kind of education in Ireland in the 1990s and emerge thinking that it’s any kind of science to think that DNA could possibly remember experiences.
It doesn’t help that there’s no-one to root for. Assassins? Templars? I honestly found myself rooting for the Templars; at least they had an objective which made some kind of sense, though like most people fighting for peace, they were just making everything worse in a good cause. Then we went to Templar HQ in London and despite a centuries long war with a gang of merciless goons who go everywhere in hoods, Templar management mandate a robe and cowl dress code for their big meetings. I would have thought that point would have been covered at the very first “how do we prevent infiltration?” meeting ever held, but I’m a five year old child and as we all know, all evil consipracies are run by people who don’t know how to talk to five year old children.
Over on the other side, hunting Assassins in the modern world looks like the easiest thing ever; keep a couple of weaponised drones loitering over your big cities, and when you see a bunch of mopes in hoods standing on the highest building ledges they can find, you cap them from a distance. Assassins seem pretty stupid. Their signature weapon is a dagger which shoots out of a sheath on their wrists. If it then dropped into their hands so that they can manipulate it sensibly, that would be cool, but instead it just sits there sticking out the sheath, so that the only way to use it is by moving your whole forearm. This is probably why it doesn’t matter much that their initiation ritual is chopping their fingers off; between that and the tattoos, they don’t seem to understand that stealthy murderer should include “hard to identify”.
Yet stupidly I paid to see it, and there’s like a gazillion versions of the game, so I daresay there will be another one along in a couple of years, and more talent will be wasted.