Skip to main content

It’s 2016. No one cares about freedom.

Assassin’s Creed
(2016)

(SPOILERS) I didn’t dislike Assassin’s Creed. It engaged me, the action worked, by and large, even if director Justin Kurzel is obsessed with high shutter speeds like it’s 1999, and it’s a damn sight better at doing what it’s doing than the empty-headed Macbeth he and Michael Fassbender collaborated on prior to this. I’m just not sure what it is that it’s doing. Or if it knows either.


I am not, nor have I ever been, a player of the video game(s) on which the movie is based, so I have no investment in its accuracy or departures from the source material, as the case may be. I can, however, point to baggage that doesn’t really work cinematically. While our Fass’s 2016 “incarnation” Cal Lynch’s encounters with a spectre of his 15th century forbear Aguilar are reasonably effective, the intercutting of action sequences in Inquisition-era Spain with Cal going through likewise motions while attached to a futuristic machine/articulated arm (the Animus) mostly don’t, succeeding mainly in detracting from the pacing of the given scene.


That said, I have no particular preference regarding the past/future elements. Assassin’s Creed is saddled with a premise that may serve well enough for a game, where it’s the action that matters, but it instantly feels leaden and clunky translated to the movies. Having Cal physically jumping around might – in the eyes of the makers – provide a visual flourish, distinguishing it from someone lying on a gurney, Matrix-style, while their mind goes a-wandering, but it’s a bit silly, no matter how seriously it’s taken (and it’s taken very seriously).


Added to which, the MacGuffin of finding the Apple of Eden is desperately sub-Dan Brown, which is saying something. Then there’s the convenience with which Cal jumps into Aguilar in linear fashion each time, at the very point he/the nefarious Abstergo Foundation needs to learn or find the next something on the trail of the Apple; it makes the plot progression all too straightforward and effortless. Where’s the challenge? And that’s not even mentioning the crudely-fashioned strand of the Templars’ plan to eliminate violence from the world and/or free will, the kind of nebulous notion that invites ridicule even before Marion Cotillard’s Sophia compares it to Oppenheimer’s achievements.


The idea of an ancestral line informing one’s existence feels like it’s picking up the thread of disguised reincarnation Highlander previously flirted with, just here wrapped in the more palatable finery of pseudo-science. So, like Cloud Atlas, we have a number of the actors playing dual counterparts, the only problem being there’s so little definition to them that they resoundingly fail to distinguish themselves. Ironically, it’s probably Denis Ménochet’s fearsome but insightful heavy who makes the most of his lot, as both the Abstergo head of security and a Templar goon.


I found the picture’s rather eccentric delineations of good guys and bad guys on the distracting side, since I was left trying to work out why those choices were made while furnished with precious little detail to back them up. The Knights Templar appear to be a free-reigning force during the Spanish Inquisition, despite having been (officially) wiped out almost two centuries earlier. And they’re up against the Hashshashins, also enduring way past their peak. The Templars here effectively represent the Illuminati (of course, some conspiracists have actually intertwined the two), imposing controls, distractions and constraints on humanity but who, unable to dissuade the global population from nasty, messy violence, wish to utilise the Apple to remove free will from the equation (as such, they’re at least portrayed as having some level of “noble” motivation, rather than simply power for power’s sake, which isn’t very illuminati of them).


The Assassins occupy the polar extreme, citing a Crowley-esque “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted” as their mantra and preserving some less-than-wholly-welded concepts of anarchy and ordered preservation of the status quo (so no using dodgy Apples, then), in order to nurture ideas and the growth of individuality. And, one can only know that one knows nothing. Perhaps if the games’ homo sapiens divinus (the dreaded ancient astronauts) had been incorporated, it might have felt like there was more meat on the bones of these barely-sketched opposing factions. It might also have yielded an answer as to why the Apple of Eden resembles a boule, although I doubt that somewhat (the old chestnut of having it located in an ancient tomb is further evidence of how under-cooked this is).


I’m not sure if the idea that the bad guys are trying to wipe out violence from humanity is intended as meta-commentary on gaming culture’s main virtual activity, but since nothing is really made of it, I’m dubious. As for the set-tos in the movie, Kurzel ensures there’s some proficient action choreography, and even occasionally makes sequences dramatically stirring (when he isn’t over-cutting and overworking his shutter), helped by his brother’s pulsing score, despite singularly failing to invest us in his paper-thin characters.  The various leaps of faith and exercises in medieval parkour are impressive and there’s more than enough tangible action to forgive the evidently virtual cityscapes (and eagles!)


The Fass gives a decent showing in his dual roles, albeit for no discernible thespian and disappointing box office reward, such that his quest to start his own franchise now appears to rest on playing Harry Hole in The Snowman. Marion Cotillard is fine (many have remarked on her erratic accent, but it didn’t disconcert especially me), Jeremy Irons plays a villain in pay cheque mode (he was much more engagingly sociopathic in High Rise, as rocky as that film was), while the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling and Michael Kenneth Williams (who smiles occasionally, but that’s it as far as humour in this dour affair is concerned) are duly professional. Ariane Labed sports some stylish face paint and she and Fass rock some snazzy 1492 designer hoodies.


The third act, such as the structure goes, is a bit of a flounder, and even features the Fass leaping upwards through a skylight à la Warren Beatty in Dick Tracy. So Kurzel is borrowing from the best… I was expecting the movie to end with the Apple stolen, cuing up the sequel. So, on the one hand, they commendably offered a degree of closure. On the other, there were another ten minutes added to the running time.


Assassin’s Creed doesn’t deserve the opprobrium heaped on it, but at the same time the negative reaction is entirely understandable. It never makes the effort to inform its audience why they should care about the proceedings or anyone in them (Kurzel said he didn’t want to show the Assassins as heroes and Templars as villains, since both ideologies could go to extremes, but he fails to achieve even that, creating murk of motivation at best). It’s all presented as a fait accompli, which you just can’t do if you’re spending $125m on a movie. Or are Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. So why did I kind of like it, I hear you ask? Damned if I know.


Anyway, it’s fairly clear by now that there won’t be an Assassin’s Creed 2 and that the prospects for a whole franchise are doomed (although, I’ve seen it said that UbiSoft took most of the hit, so that they could follow it up, irrespective of performance – that remains to be seen). Welcome to the world of video game adaptations that aren’t Resident Evil.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.