Assassin's Creed: Witness the assassination of good storytelling

The opening shot of the film catapults us forward, as we follow an eagle soaring above the clouds leading us to 15th Century Andalusia, Spain.
5 January 2017 | 12:13
  • By Alan Mehanna
  • Last update: 5 January 2017 | 12:13

BEIRUT: –I am not a gamer – never really have been. I own a Playstation4 that simply doubles for a Blu-Ray player. I used to have a Playstation3 on which I did sneak a few levels of one of the Assassin's Creed games, mind you never following a mission all the way through.

The game's storyline is layered and complex and as one audience member, who is also a devout member of the Creed, said, "The game is filled with plot-holes and some things don't make sense, but I love it."

Invited by the great folks at Vox Cinemas to experience the film in 4DX, I went into the film with no expectations. Whispers from within the shadows proclaimed the film was not good at all, and many were disappointed.

The opening shot of the film catapults the 4DX seats forward as we follow an eagle soaring above the clouds – cueing the smoke machine to puff out some faux-clouds – leading us to 15th Century Andalusia, Spain where we meet the ancestor of the film's protagonist, Aguilar.

As the narrative builds, we are introduced to Callum Lynch, played as well as possible by Michael Fassbender, who is hired by a secret organization to aid them in their quest to find an artifact known as The Apple. This artifact is said to hold the key to free will.

Alan and Sofia Rikkin, father and daughter, own the organization and as threatening as their characters should have been, they both come off as quite two-dimensional. This is a huge disappointment especially since Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard are both seasoned actors.

The screenplay simply does not offer the actors enough material to work with. Written by a trio of screenwriters; Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, and Michael Lesslie have constructed a narrative that preaches about the shadows and the complexities of the underground lives of the Assassin's Creed without ever taking us there. It is almost as if the writers themselves knew very little of the creed and therefore wrote what they knew.

Though the narrative was weak, there were moments that entertained me. There were other moments, though, that did not pay off.

The third act of the film builds towards what should have been a climactic fight sequence, and yet ends with an easy slit of the throat and no fighting at all. Sure, one could claim that the characters are assassins and their work lies in the shadows. Narratively, this fell flat and did not deliver a satisfactory ending.

Thematically, the film never really challenges thought or ideology. It plays it safe and generically discusses matters of violence being a trait passed down through genes, and the idea of people losing their free will, a concept that was tackled successfully by films like The Matrix.

Placing the narrative aside, as blasphemous as that is for me, the film's visuals make it a bit more entertaining.

Coming from the visionary director of last year's Macbeth, director Justin Kurzel brings a similar cinematic style to this film. The camera's fluidity and swiftness keeps the mise-en-scene in constant motion with forces the audience to never look away.

The camera's swiftness, however, contrasts with the pacing of the edits which are in fact quite slow considering that this is an action film. Kurzel does this purposefully in order to retain the audience's trust that what they are seeing is not an illusion.

Fight choreographer Ben Cook, and parkour runner Damien Walters are the film's saving grace. The film's fight and escape sequences feel more like deadly dances, and are quite beautiful to witness. Done all in-camera, with limited CGI, the film's use of actors and stunt-people when they could have easily used digitized doubles is something that we can all applaud.

The film's art direction was also quite on point, and I can guarantee that from the merchandizing aspect, the Assassins' hoodies are going to be big sellers.

The film's score, composed by Jed Kurzel, Justin Kurzel's brother, is not memorable. Adding it to another long list of film scores that neglect to use character themes, Kurzel composes more of an ambient feel rather than orchestral queues. A film like this in the hands of the old Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat, or even Harry-Gregson Williams would have been quite pleasing to the ear.

This film has left me utterly torn between claiming it as entertaining, and claiming it as not a good film at all.

Though a part of me felt entertained, and that's thanks to the addition of the 4DX experience, the more analytical part of me felt let down by the narrative. Assassin's Creed is the type of film that breathes life into a never-ending debate: Can a film be a good film without it having a good story?

I stand with the answer of, "no".

It seems that the creed would have been better off remaining where they belong, deeply hidden in the shadows.

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Alan Mehanna is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. He graduated with an MFA in Screenwriting from Full Sail University in Orland, Florida. He is also a film instructor at the American University of Science and Technology and Antonine University.

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