First off, let’s try and get that ‘video game movies are bad’ mantra out of your head. Ok, there’s been a little too much Uwe Boll and yes, I know the Resident Evil movies aren’t even close to the games, and oh God we won’t even talk about Silent Hill 2 but – and this is a seriously big but – this time things look a little different.
Unlike other video game movies Assassin’s Creed has specifically been created by its own developer, Ubisoft, which now has its own motion picture branch. Plus, it has one of this generation’s most wanted actors, Michael Fassbender, in not one but two starring roles. Oh, and he’s producer too, alongside Macbeth director Justin Kurzel. Is that, could it be? /Hope?/ From what I’ve seen so far, I’m feeling confident.
Here’s your breakdown of everything you need to know before the Brotherhood free-runs onto cinema screens on December 21 this year in the US (and five days later on December 26 for the rest of the world.)
The trailer & analysis
The game vs the film
The key to the Assassin’s Creed movie having any sense of new identity is that this isn’t a direct adaptation of any of the games. The joy of the series is its ability to jump through historical time periods with the Animus, a handy machine that lets modern day dwellers revisit the memories of their genetic ancestors. This means that while the adventures of Assassins Ezio, Edward, Connor, Arno et al can all still be true, Eagle diving into a different time period is entirely permitted and means more ways to forge something interesting and break new ground.
Kurzel and Fassbender therefore have a whole new world to play with in 15th century Spain during the Spanish Inquisition and can focus on making that entirely unique and new. Of course, while Assassin Aguilar De Nehra and his future-dwelling descendant Callum Lynch are completely fresh and haven’t been seen in the series so far, we can still expect to see all the hallmarks of the Brotherhood. “We don’t really draw any parallels to the game in terms of those characters at all [but] we’re staying true to the games with the core things – the Animus and the DNA memory of the characters and the artefacts,” explained Michael Fassbender on my trip to the set of Assassin’s Creed. “That is enough information to be sort of giving new audiences coming to it that don’t understand or haven’t played the games.”
Fassbender’s hood game is on point as Aguilar, we’ve seen his hidden blade (shhh, you snickering at the back) and my trip to the set proved that Kurzel wants to make things as realistic as possible. I watched in joy/horror as stuntman Damien Walters launched himself from a platform 120ft in the the air in a completely wire free leap of faith. This is definitely Assassin’s Creed with all the fast pace freerunning and close combat you’d want but, crucially, there’s a focus on story that’ll make this properly work as a film. Speaking of…
Unlike the games, Assassin’s Creed is going to spend a significant amount of time in the 21st century. According to producer Patrick Crowley, 65% of the movie is going to take place in the modern day and tell the story of Callum Lynch, a death row prisoner who is ‘executed’ and wakes up in Abstergo. Marion Cotillard’s Sophia Rikkin assures him that she’s there to help when he groggily wakes up but that means plugging him into the Animus – now an incredible mechanised arm – that forces Lynch to relive the memories of his ancestor Aguilar.
While Sophia genuinely thinks she’s helping – furthering her own research into the Assassins – her father, Alan Rikkin (a seriously evil Jeremy Irons), the head of 21st century Templar corporation Abstergo, is planning something a little more sinister with the memories. Spanish Inquisition battling Aguilar was the last one in contact with an object known as The Artefact and Rikkin, like the Knights Templar in the 15th century, wants it for his own. If you haven’t played the games, imagine the Templars as the definition of ‘nefarious’ in the dictionary. Let’s put it simply – he won’t want it for good. It has now been confirmed that The Artefact is, like the source material, one of the many Apples of Eden, ancient artefacts crafted by a species known as ‘Those Who Came Before’. Best to Google, otherwise I’m going to have to explain that Adam & Eve were alien prisoners and you’re not going to read anymore.
Lynch’s leap into the past to experience the life of Aguilar means he’ll see the Fall of Granada and the atrocities of the Spanish Inquisition, all under the watchful and evil eye of the very real Tomas de Torquemada. Aguilar is joined by Assassin Maria, another Master Assassin who is just as deadly with hidden blades and joins him in some dramatic free running sequences across the Spanish skyline. This all contributes to what’s known as the Bleeding Effect in the 21st century. Going through the motions of his ancestor in the past, Lynch learns the ways of the Assassins, becoming deadly in the future as well as the past.
Given the fact that Lynch isn’t the only Assassin locked up in Abstergo learning via the Bleeding Effect, you can probably guess that all isn’t going to stay happy for the future-dwelling Templars. What can possibly go wrong when you train a team of people to be as deadly as their hooded ancestors? Hmmm… If you want to know more indepth info about the plot, I’ve got some opinions on the first fifteen minutes of the Assassin’s Creed movie.
While Fassbender is obviously front and centre on Assassin past and present duty, there’s plenty of other talent on screen. Jeremy Irons chews up the scenery as Abstergo head Alan Rikkin – check out his evil voicemail I recorded back in December below – and Marion Cotillard joins her Macbeth co star as Sophia Rikkin. Also on board is Brendan Gleeson as Joseph Lynch and The Wire’s Michael K. Williams as modern day Assassin Moussa.
Joining Aguilar in the Spanish Inquisition is French actress Ariane Labed as hooded freerunner Maria. When we caught up last year, Labed told me how excited she is about the character of Maria. “First of all I think the great [thing] is I’m the only woman around the guys, and I like the fact that it’s not a niche at all and she’s just a very good [character] and she’s a part of them,” she enthused. “I think what I loved in this character was that it was basically that she’s a great fighter and the fact that she’s a woman is just an component and that’s it. The quality is evident and they don’t have to make a big deal of it, so yeah – I think that’s a very strong sort of political thing as well, and I love that.”
So, who is Justin Kurzel? Kurzel came immediately from last year’s excellent Macbeth into working on Assassin’s Creed and he brought his stars, Fassbender and Cotillard along for the ride. Prior to Macbeth – which made Shakespeare even bloodier and cooler than ever – Kurzel directed intense drama Snowtown.
In a breath of fresh non-popcorn scented air, Kurzel’s definitely no Michael Bay. He focuses on characters, themes and drama. This time around, he’s got his eagle vision on reality. In a world of CGI, he’s putting his crew through the wringer in terms of real stunts.
“I think that’s what so great about the game is that it’s human endeavour, it’s not suddenly a superpower,” he explained last year. “We’re putting cameras on the blades so that it’s like a blade-cam. And that’s what we’re trying to do – all the stunts are being done in camera and they’re being done by some of the best stunt guys in the world. We’re just trying to as much as possible make it feel that it’s possible for a human being to be an Assassin.”
Combo this up with Kurzel’s passion for the psychological aspect of the Animus and the moral greys of the Assassin/Templar battle and he might just bring a heart to what could previously have just been a leap of faith from one sword fight to another. Plus, as Fassbender joked last year, there’s no risk in making a video game movie as “somebody’s got to do it right once, so we figured that the odds were stacked in our favour.” In this case, I might just be convinced.