So here we go another movie release based on a game franchise. Historically, movies based on game franchises have received poor reception and, let’s face it, it’s usually well deserved. You can’t look back at films like Tomb Raider or World of Warcraft and say they were pieces of Hollywood artistry that will go down in history. So, what about this newest offering from Ubisoft? Well, the Assassin’s Creed Movie has certainly followed game to film tradition in being slammed by the critics, but, in my opinion, it’s not wholly deserved this time around. I’ve been following this project with interest since it was first announced and the trailers were looking extremely promising, so I was surprised by the critics bad reviews when it came out. However, there does seem to be a big disparity between the critic reviews and the reviews of actual cinema goers, who have been rating it a lot higher on sites like Rotten Tomatoes. So what is the story here? Is it worth going to see? Well, I took a trip to my local cinema to find out.


Now the critics’ main complaint was that the film had an indecipherable plot and that they spent most of the film without a clue as to what was going on. Well, I’m not sure what film they were watching because the plot seemed pretty clear to me. The descendent of an assassin line, Callum Lynch, played by Michael Fassbender, is captured or rescued, depending on your viewpoint, by the Abstergo Foundation, just as he was about to be executed for murder. While apparently “not a prisoner” according to Abstergo’s lead scientist Dr Sophia Rikkin, he’s kept in a locked room and forced into animus sessions to relive the experiences of his ancestor Aguilar, an assassin from 15th century Spain, who was the last person to hold the legendary Apple of Eden, an artefact which it is said is so powerful it can remove people’s free will and force them into compliance. Abstergo wants this power to enslave the world and the Assassins want to keep it from them, a battle which has been raging across most of human history. Simple enough right?


In the movie, we see two mirrored battles for possession of the Apple of Eden, one back in 15th Century Spain where a prince has been captured by the templar’s (who front themselves in the present as Abstergo). The templars intend to use the captured prince to force his father, the Sultan, into giving up the Apple of Eden that he has stashed away in his palace. The assassins fight to release the captured prince to keep the Apple from falling into templar hands. In the present timeline, Abstergo is using Callum to try to gain possession of the Apple, by finding where Aguilar ultimately had it stashed, but is contended by the numerous assassins they have locked up in their “correctional” facility, which they’d been using to track the Apple through history up to Callum’s ancestor. The result is a battle between the templars and assassins in both the past and the present day over control of the Apple.

I certainly wouldn’t say that the overarching storyline is in any way complex or hard to follow, but there are a number of deeper strands to it which, at first, appear irrelevant details, like the murder of Callum’s mother by his father and other references which are made relevant by later developments. These all seemed, to me, to have been well linked up by the end of the film, but, I guess, if a person was only half watching it then you might miss some of the details and feel it was less coherent than it is, but that’s the case in a lot of films these day. I don’t think it’s something that this film should be forced to apologise for. There’s also the fact that I’ve played nearly all the Assassin’s Creed games released to date. The plot of the film is quite familiar to anyone who’s played the early games in the franchise. The experiences of Callum mirror fairly closely those of Desmond Miles in the first game, where he is captured by Abstergo and forced to relieve the memories of his ancestor Altair in a bid to discover what became of a Piece of Eden which he came into contact with. Perhaps this is why I could follow the storyline and the critics couldn’t? Well, I already thought this might be a case of knowledge gained through the games filling in holes in the film, so I kidnapped a non gamer to watch the film with me. Despite not having completed any of the games, he had no trouble following the plot of the film, so the critic’s inability to follow a simple plot line are likely not a gamer/ non gamer issue.

Let’s face it, though, film critics don’t always get it right in their reviews. Back when the very first Star Wars film was released, it received abysmal reviews from the critics and yet still proved very popular with cinema goers. That first Star Wars film broke new ground and took the film industry in a new direction, and, I think, Assassin’s Creed does that to some degree, too, as it bridges the gap between Sci-fi and historical fiction which, at first, seems a very strange blend of ancient and new. The first game broke similar new ground when it came out a decade ago. Perhaps gamers are just more accepting of new concepts and the necessity of suspending your disbelief long enough to give a new medium a chance to explain itself than film critics? Well who knows. All I can say is, I think they have it wrong this time.

From the view point of a fan of the games, the Assassin’s Creed film does a number of things slightly differently. In the games, the emphasis has always been on the historic side, with the time spent in the animus reliving the past being given a lot more game time than outside the animus, in the present day. In the film this is reversed, with the present day receiving more screen time than the past. This may anger some fans but I think it makes sense. The notion of a person reliving a distant ancestor’s memories through a machine and the motivation behind creating such a machine to do so, is one of the games more complex plot devices. In a twenty hour game, spending two hours explaining that plot device and then giving eighteen hours of exploring history isn’t that hard, but in a film with only around two hours to play with it’s a different kettle of fish. I, personally, think the film manages to strike a decent balance in this respect. There are a number of very impressive scenes in the animus following Aguilar and all of them stand out brilliantly from the present day scenes, both in terms of pacing/ action content and in terms of art and visual style. The present and past settings are given different colour palates and architectural styles, resulting in clear visuals cues to distinguish between past and present. Michael Fassbender plays both Callum and his ancestor Aguilar and yet looks strikingly different in both roles, so it’s impossible to mix the two up.

The film also brings a new interpretation of the animus. In the games, it’s a much more passive experience. The subject is connected to a device built into a bed and their consciousness is projected back, leaving them appearing to be asleep in the present time. This works fine for a game where the emphasis is much more on interaction and exploration within the animus world. Being able to forget that you’re in fact playing a character in the present who is in turn playing a character in the past actually adds to emersion instead of retracting from the realism. However, in a two hour movie dependent more on visual rather than interactive storytelling, it does seem more important to link the two worlds together. This was done, rather effectively, by replacing the bed style animus with a metal claw that acts like a simulation pod in facilitating movement, so the subject can act along with the memories of their ancestor. This allowed the action scenes to cut back and forward between Aguilar in the past doing a move and Callum replicating it in the present which gives a stronger and more visual understanding of the two characters sharing a common experience over a gap of hundreds of years. It also makes more sense in terms of sessions being monitored by Abstergo scientists, as what Callum is seeing through Aguilar is projected into the space around the animus, recreating the scene in the present, which would be much clearer for them to follow than a 2d representation on a screen. I think this was possibly the best reimagining of an element between the games and film.


Anyway, overall, I found watching the film an enjoyable experience and I’m very glad that I didn’t let the critics opinions put me off. If you enjoyed playing the Assassin’s Creed games then as long as you’re willing to accept that adapting the title to a film medium does require some changes then I think you’ll enjoy the film. It’s not a two hour version of one of the games, but is an entity all of its own. If you didn’t like the games or didn’t enjoy the concept of battles across the ages over ancient artefacts with lots of rooftop chases and people being stabbed then there’s unlikely to be much to change your mind here, as the film does carry a very similar spirit to the games, even if it does do a few things differently and reinterprets some of a game lore. If you’re new to Assassin’s Creed then the plot is still follow able but you may need to pay a little more attention to events than your average Marvel superhero movie, where you could sleep through half of it and still understand the plot. Assassin’s Creed has a lot more to explain and you’ll need to decide if that’s the sort of film you’re in the mood to watch before you head to the cinema or you may be disappointed. I’ll place this as my favourite videogame movie adaption of all time, although, I’ll admit, considering the competition, that’s not really saying much. However, it’s a great film and I enjoyed watching it. I would advise you not to listen to the critics on this one. If the trailer, linked at the start of this review, looks interesting to you then I’d advise that you give it a watch, yourself, and form your own opinion rather than take those presented by the critics.