Assassin's Creed

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday December 23, 2016

'Assassin's Creed'
'Assassin's Creed'  

Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender make a fantastic on-screen match. Then again, just about any good looking guy would make a good match with the regal Cotillard; just look how well Brad Pitt does as her co-star in "Allied," from earlier this year, or the way she brought out the best in Matthias Schoenaerts in 2012's "Rust and Bone."

But so successfully dos the pairing of Cotillard and Fassbender work that following last year's "Macbeth" they've been brought together once more for another tale of ambition toward dark dominion. In this case, it's the Catholic church that's out for conquest, and not merely of political power but of humanity's free will. The Knights Templar have been pursuing an ancient relic -- called the Apple of Eden -- for centuries. The apple -- a metallic sphere that might have been the work of technologically advanced ancients, or perhaps the handicraft of God Himself -- is the very same fruit, so to speak, that tempted Adam and Eve right out of the Garden. Its power lies in how it somehow bestows free will upon us. If they can capture, it, the Templars will eradicate freedom, and even the wish for freedom, forever.

To sell their idea to their legions of followers, the Templars spin it as a matter of global security: They seek only, they say, to end violence and bring us security and peace. The fact that they have prosecuted wars, cultural and otherwise, reaching back to the Spanish Inquisition, and visited untold carnage in the course of their quest is something they gloss over.

Opposing the Templars is the Order of Assassins, a cadre of highly skilled and pitiless warriors who embrace the path of darkness in order to, in their words, "serve the light." Five hundred years ago, an assassin named Aguilar (Fassbender) hid the mysterious Apple; now, his descendant -- a death row inmate named Cal Lynch (also Fassbender) -- holds the key to its recovery in the form of genetically stored memories, and a scientist working with the Templars -- a beautiful and brilliant woman named Sofia (Cotillard) -- is determined to coax those memories into the open using a high-tech combination brain scanner/gymnastics harness/holographic projector. The machine externalizes memories by creating images readily visible to onlookers and allows the person reliving the experience of their long-dead ancestors to enact those memories physically. Sofia and her even more ambitious father, Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), hope to find the answers they seek by binge watching as Cal channels all of Aguilar's relevant memories.

The story is riddled wit messy and confusing inconsistencies, not to mention a grade of science that falls far into fiction, with no claim on actual genetics, brain studies, or physics. On the other hand, the ridiculous premise is given some resonance by the quality of the performers involved, the scope of the production, and clever touches, such as the double casting even of peripheral characters in roles both ancient and modern. (Besides, I celebrate any project that includes a role for actor Michael Kenneth Williams. Charlotte Rampling and Brandon Gleeson also show up, in relatively minor parts, but they rip into their roles with relish.)

If anything, this film -- based on a series of video games -- is a form of American wuxia, the Chinese genre that relies on parables of spiritual purity as manifest through superior physical skill. "Assassin's Creed" features enough wire work and swordplay to put it into the same general class of film as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and the production design -- despite showing us medieval Spain -- often looks as though it has borrowed from Asian cinema.

Alas, this movie does not transcend either its genre nor its technical expertise. Glossy and fast-paced, this is a top-rate knockoff of far better films; it even succeeds, intermittently, in making you forget that it's little more than a comic book movie with differently sourced roots. Then again, even comic books can sometimes achieve literary status, and comic book movies are quickly maturing into serious cinema, so it could be that these distinctions are becoming meaningless.

In any case, "Assassin's Creed" does manage the trick of telling a cross-generational tale that spans half a millennium. It's fun, it's fast, it's as good looking as its leads, and Jeff Kurzel's music is a breath of energy that transports and enlivens; what more do you want from a cinematic Christmas confection?

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.