Video games as a format primarily work because as the player you are in control of a character within a narrative, thus placing you in the moment. This is also why in my opinion the horror genre is now best depicted in video games. So, depending upon the game, you must complete a series of tasks such as learning how this new world works, and how to adapt to your environment. You must also make important decisions regarding your character’s various upgrades before finally deciding how to best utilise all you have learned to your advantage when you inevitably face the bosses along the way. These are some of the most fundamental reasons why people play video games, and is an element you cannot presently incorporate into film.
The video game experience also grantees that you will make many mistakes during your time with your game. Whether the you are simply overwhelmed by the enemy because he is overpowering you as you have failed to appropriately prepare your character. Or perhaps your mistake is your inability to initially find that illusive run or crouch button, meaning you are forced to spend the first 5 minutes of the game hitting every other button though a process of elimination. Creating quite a spectacle as grenades, knives, and bullets fly in every direction and that special ability you were supposed to save for an enemy has now been used, forcing you to wait 2 minutes to recharge. All the while refusing to simply look at the control menu, convinced that the next button is the solution. To those unfamiliar with video games, 2 minutes may not seem like a lot, but in game time a great deal can happen in that period.
Slowly your frustration, your rage, if you will, increases as you fail to deal with the simplest of tasks. Such as finding that one illusive item needed to progress the narrative, or perhaps repeatedly mistiming a simple jump resulting in your death and an overly long cut-scene whilst the game reloads. Or perhaps most hilarious of all video game errors, the glitch, where you find your character defying physics, or discovering a new career as a contortionist. Granted this may all be a projection of my own level of skill in a video game, but I still thoroughly enjoy playing them when I can, and Assassin’s Creed is one of my all-time favourite series. I have had a long history with this game stemming my introduction in secondary school when the first game was released, and playing well into my university life with some truly fantastic memories surrounding my experiences, Black Flag anyone?
Despite some of the more negative critics of the game series, such as its vastly overcomplicated plot and glitching problems in the last game, Assassin’s Creed is, at its heart just pure fun. The series began through the eyes of protagonist Desmond Miles, a man who is kidnapped by Abstergo because he is the descendent of an assassin from the time of the crusades who was a member of the Assassin’s Creed. The Creed and the Templar’s are at war with one another over the apple of Eden, a powerful object lost in history which has the ability to perform a multitude of miraculous feats. Desmond has been tasked with laying down on a bed known as the Animus, a machine that has the ability to project Desmond’s mind back through time and into the body of his ancestor. Thus, tracking his ancestor’s movements to discover where the Apple has been hidden.
This is perhaps a convoluted premise, but it’s one that works within Video games by providing an interesting foundation to expand upon, and one that allows you to play 80% of the game as an assassin in different periods of history. The series takes you to a number of beautiful and amazing countries in Europe, the Middle East, America, the Caribbean and in the most recent game London, during the Victorian Period, while the next game is rumoured to take place in Egypt. Though Desmond is a protagonist, he is not the focus of the series, that role is attributed to the various assassins you play, such as, Altair, Ezio and Kenway to name a few of my particular favourites. As you can probably imagine its quite fun playing as an Assassin, sneaking through crowds to gain intel and assassinate hopefully unsuspecting victims, exploring the rich history of the land, and of course using each city as your playground. Imagine a Jason Bourne type character but even more physical and memory intact.
Parkour has become unanimous with the series, the art of scaling walls, jumping from roof to roof with a degree of flair. Parkour has arguably risen in popularity because of the games which encompass both the satisfying achievement of scaling famous buildings, whilst accompanied by those random moments where you accidently aim a jump in the wrong direction with such enthusiasm that you send your character plummeting to his or her death, something remarkably easy to do.
So, when it was announced that Assassin’s Creed was the next game to be subjected to the notoriously poor world of video game film adaptations, I was sceptical to say the least. Not helped when I read an article stating that the producer and star of the film Michael Fassbender had never played the game, or at least only briefly played. This once again raises the frustrating question of why these people fail to do their research, I could even look beyond the simplistic argument of capitalism if they were to produce something of even basic value. When a book is adapted, it normally means a producer has read the book, seen the potential and encouraged his cast to do likewise. Translated to video games in such a way, it would enable to them to have even the most basic of ideas as to why these games are beloved by fans, something this film entirely misses. An opportunity Fassbender really ought to have approached with a degree of sense.
Assassin’s Creed is brought to you by the same people who made Macbeth, and the contrast between the two projects is staggering. Justin Kurzel directed this mock-up of a film. Where once upon a time he could have relied on the work of literacy master wordsmith William Shakespeare and an excellent cinematographer to help visualise his version of Macbeth, he must now rely on Michael Lesslie. Lesslie has constructed an appalling script, totally missing reason of why this series is so appealing as rather than the assassin’s perspective, he instead focuses on Fassbender’s character Cal Lynch. The script is comprised of clique after clique in a stilted and vastly overcomplicated script. One that relies far too heavily on assuming the audience knows “What the fuck is going on” as said by Cal in one scene. Perhaps an unaware Fassbender was caught by the camera reading the script for the first time.
Cal Lynch is a man whose family is steeped in assassin history, initially shown as a child we find him 30 years later in a prison cell. His crime you ask? He killed a pimp, which is implied to be somehow morally acceptable because of his somewhat seedy occupation. Cal has no idea what is going on, and nor frankly do we owing to a script which focuses on the more illogical side of the game series where they attempt to unsuccessfully explain how the Animus works.
The Animus then is the biggest change from the game, once a bed where the character simply lay down to be plugged in as it were. Film Animus is a giant mechanical arm that throws Cal around as he copies the movements of his ancestors. I do understand the need to create a more visual format for the film. Rather than watching Fassbender sleep for nearly 2 hours, it is an interesting idea, though there is an entire comedic element to this that was totally side-stepped. Cal copies the movements of his ancestor, yet we only see his cross section when Cal is fighting or climbing and looking assassin esque. There is a moment near the beginning where his ancestor is riding a horse, which no doubt places Cal in an hilarious and compromising position and yet this is sadly never witnessed.
The same goes for The Leap of Faith, something I feel the film very much cheated us out of. In the game, when an assassin is standing on a particularly tall building they have the ability to simply jump from the top, plummet to the ground , and land in an oddly well-placed stack of hay. Now logically, hay or no hay, that person is dead, but it is an iconic element of the game known to fans and one that is regarded as illogical comedic and as fun as it is ridiculous. In the film, the moment where Cal/Assassin would land is cut, instead Cal suffers from some sort of internal break down and momentarily becomes paralysed. The script once again showing its ineptitude by focusing on entirely the wrong thing.
As previously mentioned, the Animus is where you spent 80% of the game, in the film its closer to 20%. So instead, we are subjected to Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard, who play father and daughter Rikkin and Sofia. They are the Templars and their purpose is to find the apple of Eden in order to remove hate from humanity. They have a ridiculous government budget of 3 Billion a year to fund a programme the government are threatening to shut down, Cal is of course the last assassin left to help them reach their aim. This is further evidence of the film focusing on entirely the wrong elements, as a fan I know the games have a hyperbolic premise, but that is not why we play these games.
Rikkin and Sofia have a woefully unimaginative narrative, Rikkin owns the company and will do anything to achieve his ambition of acquiring the apple. While Marion looks absolutely beautiful but is given even less substance than Cal to work with beyond her capacity as a daughter devoting her life to her father’s project. She wants to help Cal and others trapped in the facility, caring for their mental state, but never quite manages to do anything other than stand at the side line and watch Cal flail around on the machine. A truly appalling script allowing for little creative room for two such fine actors.
There are of course more elements of the game that the film has tried to embody, however, the clear difference is that the film rushes each element so that while in the games Desmond gradually becomes an assassin by learning from his ancestor game by game. It only takes one session in the Animus for Cal to begin losing his mind in quite an alarming manner that feels horribly out of place.
The only two redeeming features of the film are the style, which with its sleek futuristic aesthetic is not hard to replicate from the game, but it’s one of the few things it did get right. The action too is good when it appears, if poorly edited with around 24 cuts in one scene. The film concludes with some rather odd Harry Potter esque effects, where Cal’s many ancestors all stand around him staring at one another until his mother steps forward to comfort him. One cannot help but imagine this must have been as awkward to film for them as it was for me to watch.
OVERALL * An appalling script displaying a total misunderstanding of the source material, another reason to add to the forever growing evidence that these video game adaptations do not work.
RECOMMENDATION – If the trailer looked in any way appealing to you, then go and buy the games, far more enjoyable.