Through a revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar, in 15th Century Spain. Callum discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, the Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day.
For gamers, and even those who simply enjoy the occasional videogame-based movie, Assassin's Creed is sadly not the godsend some were anxiously awaiting. It's not exactly a terrible movie, but it's not great either, littered with several head-scratching details in an aloof and rather mediocre plot that aspires far beyond what the filmmakers are capable of achieving. To put it in another perspective, some might argue this action-adventure film based on the popular Ubisoft series is the best video game adaptation, but seeing as how we have yet to actually see a good video game movie, that's not exactly high praise for a high-concept, high-budgeted production. It would be like pointing out the pretty flower growing atop a dunghill. Sure, it's a sight to behold from a distance — a feast for the imagination, perhaps — but trying to pluck it is more work than it's worth and probably smells just as bad. I'm sure I have better things to do than analyzing something that requires little more than to comment, "Oh, fancy that pretty flower growing on a dunghill."
I know it sounds as though I'm coming down harshly on the movie while also weirdly praising it in a backhanded sort of way, and the reason for that it really simple. It's actually a well-made production that makes for a visually impressive one-time watch. Director Justin Kurzel, who made a name for himself with Snowtown and Macbeth, which also starred the highly-talented Michael Fassbender, brings his talents for composition to an adventure tale with several spectacular shots that energize various action sequences and sweeping camera movements over parkour stuntwork that often mesmerizes. With cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, the whole fantasy of traveling back in time through genetic memories, thanks to some mechanical-arm-like contraption called the "Animus," is beautiful to behold. Production designers who brought Late Medieval Spain to life should also be commended while Jed Kurzel's score can serve a variety of scenes with people leaping through the air. Altogether, the film rightfully earns some acclaim for its technical achievements.
However, having watched it a third time, the story is ultimately boring, more likely to cause drowsiness than even the slightest bit of enthusiasm. Even during the first watch, I kept battling sleep paralysis while Fassbender, as convicted murderer Callum, enters a sleep paralysis machine created by Marion Cotillard's Sofia, a scientist with the lofty goal of curing our hereditary tendency towards violence, which should immediately sound the alarm bells. However, she works for father, Alan Rikkin (a dour, sinister-looking Jeremy Irons), and his Abstergo Foundation, which is itself a front for modern-day Templars, which is secretly run by the even more shadowy Charlotte Rampling. It all sounds overly complicated — and it is! — nearing cartoonish levels of silliness while failing to earn sympathies for Callum's situation and predictable journey into hero status. There isn't even a redeemable quality to the character — a bland, two-dimensional pawn in his own story — or a sense of him searching absolution for his criminal past.
But the filmmakers have a backup plan that overlooks this with a byzantine plot about sending the descendants of a secret society of assassins into the memories of their ancestors. Apparently costing upwards of billions of dollars each year, all for the sake of finding the hidden location of a device called the "Apple," which contains the genetic code for removing free will.
Philosophy has never been a strong feature of video game stories, and Assassin's Creed clearly demonstrates this gratified surface level appreciation for the most abstract ponderings into our existence. Neither the filmmakers nor the characters ever attempt to explain how the Animus machine works, even in the most haphazard, rudimentary terms. Memories carried through the genes? There's potential for fascinating explorations concerning free will, which ironically the machine requires for it to function optimally, and Cartesian dualism. But the filmmakers of this adaptation don't ever commit to transcending genre trappings, taking a leap of faith moviegoers won't be bored by the pretty flower.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings Assassin's Creed to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 disc inside a blue, eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. A couple skippable trailers kick things off before switching to the standard menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The "Assassins" take a leap of faith on Blu-ray with an excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that bursts unto the screen with brilliant, comfortably bright contrast levels. Shot digitally on a combination of Alexa 65, Arri Alexa XT and Red Weapon Dragon cameras with a few scenes in GoPro Hero3, the digital-to-digital transfer displays crisp, sparkling whites that make certain scenes, such as when the Animus is in use or when Callum travels back to the 1490s, radiate with brilliance. A vibrant, accurately-rendered array of colors adds to the presentation's sometimes gorgeous quality, bathed in a wide range of secondary pastel hues that provide exterior shots of the sun's rays with warmth while primaries shine with energy.
Overall, the 2.40:1 image has an interesting and generally pleasing stylized photography, but it appears to be at the cost of clarity and definition. On the whole, details are fairly sharp with visibly distinct lines in the costumes and the stone architecture of medieval Spain while facial complexions are only ever revealing in close-ups, exposing the tiniest wrinkle, pore and blemish. On the other hand, there are many softer moments throughout, particularly the sweeping aerial shots. Black levels, too, appear to suffer quite a bit, looking pretty rich and true for the most part but also murky and faded in others, losing some of the finer shadow details.
Still, all things considered, the video game adaptation comes with a great-looking presentation.
The action-adventure adaptation debuts with a top-notch, demo-worthy 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that brings the movie to life much like the Animus does for Callum.
From the opening moments, the sides and rears are used frequently although not in an aggressive manner that overwhelms the viewer. Rather, the design is layered with a variety of subtle atmospherics that discreetly move around the entire room and surround the listener. Scenes taking place inside the Abstergo Foundation come with the echoes of other prisoners chatting in the distance or the sometimes strange sound of silence, as in you can almost hear the breeze lightly blowing through the concrete hallways or the sound of fluorescent bulbs humming. The musical score, however, does most of the work by bleeding into all the speakers to envelope and keep viewers engaged. When traveling back to the 1490s, action sequences are filled with a racket of commotion from the crowded streets as characters parkour across buildings while arrows fly across the room with superb directionality.
Meanwhile, the front soundstage delivers an impressively broad and spacious soundfield where various background activity fluidly pans across all three channels. Imaging exhibits outstanding fidelity and warmth even during the most tumultuous action-packed sequences. The score displays with distinct clarity and separation in the orchestration while vocals remain intelligible and precise amid the loudest, most chaotic moments. A robust, palpable low-end provides the design with powerful presence and a few wall-rattling bits, but it never really digs into ultra-low depths. Nevertheless, the lossless mix delivers a fantastic, satisfying soundfield.
Take the Pledge (HD, 41 min): An assortment of BTS featurettes with cast & crew interviews talking about various aspects of the production, the plot and performances.
Conversations with Justin Kurzel (HD, 20 min): Another collection of conversations with the director and others giving some insight on the musical score, the film's visuals and story.
Deleted Scenes Conversation with Justin Kurzel & Justin Tellefson (HD, 22 min): The director and editor talk over excised footage and the reasoning behind their removal.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 16 min): Can be watched individually or in order:
Protect the Apple
"Lynch is Dangerous"
"I Remember Him"
"That's the Wrong Card"
Preparing to Fight
"We Are Assassins"
"Out of the Shadows"
Gallery (HD, 8 min)
Costumes and Weapons
Theatrical Trailers (HD, 4 min)
Theatrical Trailer 1
Theatrical Trailer 2
Despite director Justin Kurzel and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw making arguably one of the best looking videogame-based adaptations, Assassin's Creed, unfortunately, is not the godsend some were anxiously awaiting for. Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, the story is needlessly complicated and ultimately boring with little soul attached to the amazing visuals. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent video, a reference-quality audio presentation and an enjoyable set supplements.
In the end, this Blu-ray package is a Give it a Rent for the curious, and Recommended for fans.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.