Assassin’s Creed (2016)

I think I know why films don’t work when they’re based on video games.

Now, there’s always the idea that they’re shorter—video games, at least the ones I play, take 15 hours to complete. To cut that down to two hours or less is to strip a story of almost all its heft. My real theory, though, is that video game movies fail because of control. If an experience is built on a player’s individual agency, you can’t just put a player in that world and take away their right to play.

It’s ruined a lot of gamer films, and it might be what cripples Assassin’s Creed. If you can’t play, you watch, and that’s not as fun. The narrative barely scratches the surface, and you’re not allowed to explore the rich world created by the filmmakers. You’re offered no control in the outcome of the film, or even the illusion that you have any. That’s disappointing.

This film, which to its credit is gloriously realized by Justin Kurzel (Macbeth), is about Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs), a criminal about to be executed. A mysterious company acquires his body and brings him back to life, all so he can connect with the timeline of his ancestor from 500 years ago. The project, led by Inception’s Marion Cotillard, is far more devious than it seems…

As a piece of visual art, it really is exceptional. The production design is worthy of its massive budget, too, but I just found the story to be lacking a bit. There were far too many fights and big-picture actions, assuming there will be a few sequels to flesh it out, and it left the story incomplete.

If you come expecting a great film, you won’t find it, even though this has its merits. I just think it’s ironic that for a film about stripping citizens of their free will, that’s exactly what the filmmakers have done by making Assassin’s Creed. Making more will be a leap of faith.

2.5 Green

Assassin’s Creed is in theaters now.

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