Imagine getting into a sleek, quietly beautiful car. You turn the ignition, hit the gas, and the vehicle glides into traffic with confidence. Everyone told you this car was a goddamn deathtrap, but you didn't listen, because you happen to like the people who made this car. And besides, it didn't look that bad, sitting there in the lot. And, hey, turns out - drives pretty nice!
Then, as you ride along, you start to notice a number of weird things. The car's side mirrors angle off in the wrong directions. The odometer's counting backwards. The hood of the car appears to be held in place via the generous application of duct tape. "That's weird," you think, quite stupidly. "Maybe it'll correct itself."
But no, it won't. About two-thirds of the way into your trip, the car abruptly decides to commit suicide: even as you power towards your destination, this formerly-beautiful, seemingly-reliable vehicle is disintegrating around you. The windshield shatters without warning. The engine bursts into flames. One of the front tires careens off into a yard, killing a man who was watering his lawn. As you reach the end of your trip, the car bottoms out completely, leaving you sitting on the pavement, both annoyed and dazed.
What the hell was that all about?
This has been an elaborate metaphor designed to capture the experience of watching Assassin's Creed. I'd have come up with something more relevant (a slowly-degrading suit of armor? An assassin's crumbling morality? Some shit with, I dunno, horses?), but honestly, weak-sauce metaphors seem like a justifiable response to Assassin's Creed. It earns 'em, is what I'm saying.
Guys, this movie's just kind of a mess. Michael Fassbender and the rest of the cast work very, very hard to make it all work, and director Justin Kurzel never plays the Assassin's Creed mythology as anything less than deadly serious (this can be a problem with some properties, but here it's right in line with the source material; you can't accuse Kurzel of straying too far from the formula), but it just doesn't hang together as a movie, and the longer the film goes on the more apparent that becomes.
... and yet, I can't honestly sit here and say I didn't enjoy the weird shenanigans going on inside Abstergo, the nefarious company at the heart of Kurzel's film. I'm not gonna sit here and tell lies on the internet about how I wasn't impressed by Marion Cotillard's courageous decision to deliver her lines via "Random Accent Generator". And I certainly can't deny that the film's final act is so bafflingly convoluted and poorly-conveyed that I literally sat for minutes at a time, staring at the screen with no idea what was happening.
What we have, in other words, is a (hold onto your hats!) fatally flawed video game adaptation which contains just enough weird grace notes that I cannot dismiss it completely. There's not quite enough of 'em for me to give Assassin's Creed a full-throated recommendation ("Oh, you gotta see this shit"), but there's enough to prevent me from really tuning up on Kurzel's film, even as I understand why so many others have gleefully hopped onto that particular dogpile.
Anyway, here's the plot: Michael Fassbender plays Callum Lynch, a death row inmate who wakes up from a scheduled lethal injection to discover that he's been kidnapped by the good folks at Abstergo, who have since drafted him into their ongoing DNA/memory experiments. Sinister-looking scientists (led by Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, playing both Cotillard's father and the head of Abstergo) are trying to track down a magical golden apple, one they lost years ago during their ongoing war with a league of noble Assassins. This apple, they say, contains "the first seeds of Man's disobedience" (STOP SNICKERING), and if they're able to harness the power contained within, they might be able to "cure" humanity's violent tendencies. To that end, they shove Callum into this big-ass contraption called the Animus, which allows him to travel back in time and into the memories of an ancestor who fought alongside the Assassins. There, Callum stabs many dudes in the face and neck.
For the first hour or so, I was enjoying myself. The film looks great, Fassbender - as per usual - elevates everything and everyone around him, and the sequences set in the past (during the Spanish Inquisition, a historical backdrop they really didn't mine for all its worth) contain just enough spectacle as to not be boring. By the third time we've watched Callum jump off a roof and head-stab someone, though, it starts to feel a little less compelling. By the time a riot breaks out inside the Abstergo facility, I didn't care. And shortly thereafter, when the film seemed to go insane (I'm not joking about that final act; an unscientifc poll conducted after my screening reveals that everyone was confused about what they'd seen), all you can do is throw your hands up and wait for it to be over. Assassin's Creed starts strong, but finishes in a pile of rubble.
More than anything, Assassin's Creed is a frustrating film. On paper, it's got everything you could possibly ask for in a video game adaptation: an all-star cast (plus, as an added bonus, one supporting actor who looks exactly like an unflattering cartoon rendering of Jean Reno), a general faithfulness to the source material, a director willing to lean into the weirdness of the premise and unafraid to let things get a little artsy-fartsy, and one or two really strong set pieces. But in practice, it's uneven and boring and just a little too grim for its own good.
Assassin's Creed is not the top-to-bottom disaster some of my peers have painted it as, nor is it bonkers enough to suggest a forthcoming critical re-evaluation (a la Gods Of Egypt). The problem is that either of those things would've been preferable to something this dour and repetitive. The good news is, there's some entertainingly weird shit going on in the margins of this movie, the sort that will please some of you greatly. With that in mind, I absolutely wouldn't recommend going out of your way to see Assassin's Creed in a theater, but when this thing hits Netflix in six weeks? I'd see no harm in giving it a whirl.