Film is better when explanation turns to action

By Gary Clift

Video game players, at least many of them, will know enough about the “Assassin’s Creed” game to make sense of the story of the film version of the game. Others may find just understanding the significance of the events will require them to apply themselves a bit.

But why should they? Well, maybe the cast will suggest to nongamers that there may be something to this film. Jeremy Irons, Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling—these aren’t action film stars. So what are they doing here? Well, director Justin Kurzel, an Aussie, has brought in these famous European actors, proven film presences, every one of them, to carry some of the talky passages in the script. It has to stop to explain itself several times.

Otherwise how would those of us who aren’t dedicated single-slasher players going to know what’s going on?

Explanations never work in movies. And here they are dogged by poor sound recording that makes the ticketholder have to attend carefully if he’s to make out what’s being said.

No wonder we’re all relieved when the movie stops explaining and starts fighting and chasing again.

During the middle of the film, Kurzel doubles up on the action.

Our hero Kal (Fassbender) is the off-spring of a pair of Assassins.

These are dedicated, skilled, and sometimes sneaky hand-to-hand fighters pledged to sacrifice their own interests to the advancement of their creed.

“Nothing is true,” this pledge goes.

“Everything is permitted.” But don’t take this as a call to anarchy. The Assassins are just for free will. And they have fought for centuries against the enemies of free will, the Templars.

The Templars exist in history, as a group of knights from European countries who became rich through their Crusades era activities.

They were suppressed before 1500.

But in the game they continue to work to advance their idea of gaining peace by making all subservient to a central Christian authority. No wonder, then, that the Assassins, in the earliest action in which we see them, are allied to the Moslem ruler of Grenada in Spain.

As if the Templars didn’t have enough reason to oppose him, the Sultan also has “the Egg of Eden,” a religious artifact the possession of which should allow the bad guys to curtail free will which was, after all, signal in Adam and Eve’s problems in the garden.

Now here’s the doubling up: an Assassin who must have been an ancestor of Cal’s fought the Templars who kidnapped the Sultan’s son. Our hero is coincidentally executed for murder in the U.S. and awakens a day or two later in a prison and asylum and lab in Spain.

There he is hooked up to a machine run by Sofia (Cottilard) who uses it to give him the memories of his ancestor’s effort to save the Egg. The machine has a long, mobile arm he is connected to. As he remembers the medieval fighting, he goes through the motions in the lab. So we see him in 15th century action and in 21st century mirror action.

The Assassins, it turns out, are a cross between ninjas and Jack Reacher, just as the movie is a cross between “The Davinci Code” and “Constantine.” And Cal has a worthy antagonist, a vast Templar with a man bun. They fight it out and chase each other from the kidnapping to the final disposition of the Egg.

Sofia watches all of this. And so, looking over her shoulder, does her evil father (Irons).

He steps in at the last, following the clues from Cal’s new memories, swiping the Egg, and taking it to an international meeting of Templar leaders.

Will the now fully informed but momentarily alone Cal be able to stop Dad before he scotches free will? The fighting is pretty good in the movie, thoaugh some of the details of the diving from upper stories gets obscured by perhaps intentionally occluded camera angles.

The story is less satisfactory. And one has to work really hard to figure out what it is, a certain portion of the time. Nevertheless it is easy to see how fans of the video game will enjoy watching this less interactive version of the game’s story.

But is there anything here for their controller- averse buddies? That’s the real issue with “Assassin’s Creed.”

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