Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Assassin’s Creed - Michael Fassbender never really levels up in video game adaptation

Director Justin Kurzel deserves credit for recreating the atmosphere of the game, especially when the lead character pivots back to the Spanish Inquisition, but Fassbender has too little emotional meat to feed on

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2016, 1:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2016, 1:01pm

2.5/5 stars

The Ubisoft video game series Assassin’s Creed is a giant in the console universe. After nine games, 17 spin-offs, not to mention follow-up comics and novelisations, a movie adaptation was inevitable. Behind this is the Australian director Justin Kurzel, in what is only his third film. Reunited with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, the stars from his impressive 2015 take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth , Kurzel has a promising creative team behind his winter blockbuster.

Fassbender plays Callum Lynch, a character new to fans of the game who finds himself in a world they will all recognise. A murderer on Death Row, Lynch is given a lethal injection, only to wake up in a research facility in Madrid. Run by father and daughter Alan (Jeremy Irons) and Sophia Rikkin (Cotillard), their covert mission is to find the Apple of Eden, a powerful ancient artefact said to contain the genetic code to man’s free will.

‘I hadn’t played it’: Michael Fassbender picks up Assassin’s Creed’s history on the job of big-screen adaptation

The last remaining descendant of the Assassins, a secret society that has battled against rival outfit the Knights Templar for the possession of the Apple, the unwitting Lynch is strapped into a machine that plugs into his memories, sending his mind back to the 15th century, where his Spanish ancestor Aguilar is doing battle amid the Inquisition. It’s here where the film best replicates the game, as Fassbender (or his stuntman) runs, jumps and fights like a demented acrobat.

Credit to Kurzel for recreating the atmosphere of the game, with majestic swooping shots and parkour-style action. But despite Fassbender’s physical dexterity, he has little emotional meat to feed on here. The back story, with the pursuit of the Apple, is vague and frustrating; the back-and-forth between present and past hampers the film’s fluidity; and the characterisation is weak.

There’s good support, especially from The Wire’s Michael K. Williams as a fellow inmate, but Assassin’s Creed never translates its good elements into a playable whole. Not game over, then, but it never really levels up.

Assassin’s Creed opens on December 22

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook