In its various iterations, the video game “Assassin’s Creed” has sold 100,000,000 copies. Ready-made audience, here we come. Except that ready-made is as ready-made does. Is a bigger screen reason enough to go to a theater and sit passively in the dark when you can stay home and actually play the game? Regency and 20th Century Fox, along with the game’s maker, Ubisoft, are betting $130,000,000 that the answer is yes.
The basic premise features enough convolutedness and pseudo-history to make Dan Brown’s word processor jealous. For centuries, super-secret society number one, the Assassins, has battled super-secret society number two, the Knights Templar. At stake is nothing less than humanity’s capacity for free will. Determining said capacity is a grail-like item called the Apple of Eden, not to be confused with the Apple of Cupertino. Gamers prefer PCs to Macs.
Don’t get the wrong idea from that name Assassins. They’re the good guys. “We work in the dark to serve the light,” they like to say. Assassins have nifty knives that shoot out from under their wrists. They work like Wolverine’s claws. The resemblance ends there, since Assassins wear hoods and don’t have fur.
Michael Fassbender plays both Aguilar, the 007 of 15th-century Assassins, and his present-day descendant, Cal. Thanks to a gizmo called the Animus, Cal can go back in time to reenact Aguilar’s experiences. The process feels a bit like “Inception” (2010). That movie’s female lead, Marion Cotillard, oversees the Animus.
Fassbender, one of the producers, and Cotillard head a lavishly wasted cast. He looks great with his shirt off. She looks great in high-waisted trousers. Charlotte Rampling, as a mysterious authority figure (is that cryptic enough?), looks great looking severe. Jeremy Irons, as Cotillard’s father, looks great in a turtleneck. Brendan Gleeson, as another character’s dad, doesn’t look great — hey, he’s Brendan Gleeson — but, oh, that voice. It’s even better than Irons’s. All score bonus points for keeping a straight face throughout.
Also on hand is Michael K. Williams, as modern-day Assassin Moussa. Williams was Omar, on “The Wire.” If only Omar and his murderous charisma were on hand to shoot some sense into these people. “Assassin’s Creed” ping-pongs around from Spain in 1492 to Baja California 30 years ago to 2016 and Texas’s death row (!), Madrid, Seville, and London. And the many fighting scenes are edited to smithereens. Yet the effect is less video-game-turned-movie than zombie movie minus zombies: stilted, static, s-l-o-o-o-w. The ending couldn’t set up a sequel more clearly if “To be continued” appeared on a title card. Don’t count on it. Game on? Game over.
Directed by Justin Kurzel. Written by Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage; based on the video game. Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 110 minutes. PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements, and brief strong language). In English and Spanish, with subtitles.
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.