Assassin’s Creed began as a video game series from Ubisoft that debuted in 2007. The first one is set during the third Crusade in the Holy Land in 1191. The Secret Order of Assassins – which are based on the Hashshashin sect (you can Wikipedia them for more details – they have a long history) – is battling the Templar Knights (they also have a long history that you can Wikipedia). The quickest way to sum up their beef is that the Assassins fight for peace through free will, while the Templars want peace through control.
When playing the game, you play as Desmond Miles. In present day, Desmond gets kidnapped by Abstergo Industries and forced into their ‘Animus’, a machine that lets you relive the lives of your ancestors – essentially allowing them to monitor your genetic memories. Desmond’s ancestor, Altair Ibn-La’Ahad was a senior member of the Assassins. He had ruined a mission to retrieve an artifact from Robert de Sable, so throughout the course of the game, Altair has to redeem himself by taking on various assassinations, gradually earning back his gear in the process, (“Here’s your wrist blade”, “Now you’ve earned back your sword”, etc.). The reason Abstergo is after these memories through Desmond is to find the “Apple of Eden”, a relic that may possess god-like powers. Eventually (spoiler alert) you find out that Abstergo is the Templars, which then rolls into the second game as Desmond is rescued and goes into another animus to his ancestor Ezio Auditore da Firenze during the Italian renaissance. I actually successfully played the first game all the way through the end, and started the second one (which is my favorite), but am currently stuck in a church in Venice. I struggle with the running along the walls part. I am currently playing the one set in France (Unity) – I honestly forget what number they are on!
Since the game is essentially playing a guy who is visiting his ancestor’s memories through a machine, I figured if they ever turned it into a movie, they would probably drop the memory part to focus on the parkour-loving assassins. However, this movie sticks pretty close to the gameplay.
The movie follows Callum Lynch, who we meet in 1986 as a bit of a daredevil, jumping his bicycle off a roof. He comes home to find his father standing over his dead mother with a knife, telling him that ‘they’ have found them, and Cal needs to run. We then meet up with Cal thirty years later as he’s about to be executed in a Texas prison for killing a pimp who tried to mug him. Strangely, he wakes up after his execution to find that he’s been taken by the Abstergo Foundation to their facility in Madrid. Dr. Sophia Rikkin, their head scientist (her father Alan is in charge of the foundation), puts him in the animus, to get his genetic memories of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha.
Aguilar and his partner Maria were rescuing Prince Ahmed de Grandad – the son of the Sultan Muhammad XII. Templars kidnapped the boy to get the sultan to reveal where the Apple of Eden is hidden.
Outside the animus, Cal starts to befriend some of the other inmates in the facility – who all seem to be assassin descendants that Abstergo is using to find the Apple. However, some of them seem to still be ‘on the clock’ so to speak and know a lot more about what is going on than Cal. He seems pretty shocked by the whole thing. After all, they’ve been working as assassins, and Cal would have been, had he not spent the last 30 years away from his parent’s assassin upbringing.
Eventually, Alan reveals that Cal’s father is there at the facility – hoping that Cal will kill him and join their side because after all, he has a board to report to and he’s promised them the Apple. However, Cal’s father reveals that he and Cal’s mother were both assassins, and he killed her to prevent Abstergo from putting her in the animus. Swayed, Cal follows through Aguilar’s memories, and learns that Aguilar and Maria basically failed in their mission, but that Aguilar did get the Apple, and gave it to someone, who then hid it – however, the Rikkins do get this information and grab the Apple to take to the board.
But, by this point, Cal has come to realize who he is, and has helped free all the other assassin descendants in the facility – a few of them head to the Templar gathering to steal back the Apple, and begin a new war with the Templars.
Since my favorite part of the games is the look and the lush open world environments where the play takes place – I was hoping to see that in the movie, and it did deliver on that. Here the memories take place in Spain during the time of the inquisition (1492), between the events of the first and second game. Directed by Australian Justin Kurzel, the movie blends the current and flashback portions quite well. It starts with an intense action sequence, then goes through a ton of exposition, but definitely builds to a great climax. The last half hour or so was great, and I was on the edge of my seat. They did a great job of translating the complicated nature of the genetic memory action of the game to a movie, but I’m not sure it will read for those who are unfamiliar with the game. It could get confusing. The action was great, the parkour was good, however, since it is such a key part of the game, I did want a little more of it. Parkour (or free-running) is amazing to watch, so I wanted it shot from farther away and with fewer cuts so that you could see the work the stuntmen were doing. I was pleasantly surprised with the cast.
- I was not sure how Michael Fassbender would do with this movie, I don’t really think of him as an action guy – despite the bit in 300. However, he pulled off Cal’s disbelief early on, and then his progression towards believer as the story progressed. In terms of the Aguilar memories, he barely looks like himself, so those were pretty great too.
- Marion Cotillard plays Dr. Sofia Rikkin, and she did a good job in convincing Cal to help her get what she wants. She at first seemed that she might side with the Assassin’s, but then, just at the end, it seems pretty clear that she’s going to become a big time Templar and really start hunting them down.
- Jeremy Irons plays Alan Rikkin, who basically is all about the Apple all the time. He wants the Templars to keep giving him money, so he’s willing to go to almost any lengths. Including showing Cal a knife, handing it to him, and then pulling it away just as he’s reaching for it to set it on a table in front of him. Really?
- Brendan Gleeson has basically a one-scene cameo as Cal’s father (and yes, that is his son Brian Gleeson playing him in the 1986 scene). He provides the final push for Cal to forgive him and realize his assassin potential.
- Charlotte Rampling plays head Templar (Queen Templar?) Ellen Kaye. In this, she’s just the pure embodiment of evil – there’s not a ton for her to do aside from walk around and look derisively at everyone else, which she does very well.
- Michael K. Williams plays Moussa, whose ancestor was an assassin named Baptiste. He realizes pretty quickly what Abstergo is trying to do with Cal, and starts putting things in motion to assist with the big escape and uprising.
- Ariane Labed plays Maria, Aguilar’s assassin partner. She’s pretty great and gets a ton of impressive action sequences.
- Callum Turner plays Nathan, another imprisoned assassin descendant who gets lippy with Cal about the Apple pretty quickly, even before Cal has any idea what is going on.
Overall, I really enjoyed the movie – far more than I expected to. The action was spectacular, and the back and forth between present day and memory was done pretty well. I really enjoyed the build to the end, and potential sequels – and I will say that I do hope they get a sequel, because I want more from Cal and Moussa out on assassination patrol to protect/destroy the apple.
8 out of 10 – gained points for Michael K. Williams begin awesome. Lost points for Jeremy Irons setting the knife on the table after teasing that he was going to hand it over.
Bonus – cast interviews
Bonus – Assassin’s Creed Fan Made Parkour!