Assassin’s Creed‘s principal visual motif, that of the same eagle seemingly flying all over the world in multiple different time periods, feels as head-slappingly obvious yet needlessly convoluted as the film it stitches together. Said film, of course, is in the long-standing tradition of movies based on video games that almost invariably fail to attract critical support (the only probable exceptions are the Resident Evil films by Paul W.S. Anderson and Takashi Miike’s Ace Attorney), but this particular incarnation’s failure is more puzzling than usual. Directed by Justin Kurzel, who helmed last year’s lurid but tedious adaptation of Macbeth, and featuring many returning collaborators from cinematographer Adam Arkapaw to lead actors Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, Assassin’s Creed possesses the talent to become a dynamic and thrilling movie. But it feels hampered by many aspects, neither embracing its video game origins nor providing any sort of compelling reason to exist.
Though the movie essentially takes place two timelines, and most of the physical action is set in 1492, it primarily follows the story of Callum Lynch (Fassbender), a convicted criminal sentenced to death, in present-day Spain. After undergoing a fake execution, he is brought to an organization known as Abstergo Industries and, under the supervision of Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Cotillard) and her father and CEO Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), is connected to a device called the Animus. The contraption allows Callum to relive the memories of his ancestor Aguilar, a member of a group of assassins that has continually opposed the Templar Order, so that he may help Abstergo find the Apple of Eden, an ancient artifact that purportedly would allow the owner to control the free will of the entire human race.