Assassin's Creed

 

            This movie is kind of a mess, despite the A-list actors and the favorable Christmas release.  It's based on a popular video game, where the characters are woefully underdeveloped so that we can get right down to the business of knocking off the bad guys, who just seem to keep coming, but conveniently, one at a time, so our hero can dispatch them quickly, and almost bloodlessly.

            Two-time Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender plays Cal Lynch, who, as a little boy, walks in on his Dad murdering his Mom.  He runs away while the authorities take away his Dad, and now, as an adult, we find him in prison for murder.  It seems there was a series of disastrous foster home placements and then juvenile detention and then the almost-predictable adult incarceration.  But in his prison cell, Lynch is drawing pictures of medieval figures, because, as it turns out, he's a direct descendant of the famous Aguilar, a Spanish warrior of the late 15 century.  (Despite the Christian themes now revealed, it's a kind of reincarnation that feels more Buddhist.)

            Lynch is selected for a special government research project that involves using an Animus to unlock his genetic memories, so that in his mind, he becomes Aguilar.  Now we switch back to 1492, where Ferdinand and Isabella are on the Spanish throne, getting ready to commission the Italian Christopher Columbus to sail across the wide ocean to see what's on the other side (after they finish defeating the Moors).  Aguilar, it turns out, is a member of an elite group of Assassins who actually consider themselves the good guys, because they are attempting to disrupt the stranglehold of the Knights Templar, which has pervaded the medieval Catholic Church, as well (yeah, get ready for more fuzzy ecclesiastics).  The treasure they are all fighting to possess is the Eden apple, yes, the one Eve famously gave to Adam, because it contains free will, and therefore represents humanity's freedom of choice.  So to withold it is to make people unable not to sin?  (Augustine's classical theological argument encapsulated in a Faberge egg knockoff?)

            The modern twist here is that a renowned research scientist, Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Oscar winner Marion Cotillard), is trying to find out exactly where the somehow-not-dessicated-apple is now located.  It seems she believes that if she possesses it, she thinks she can put an end to evil, because she will have eliminated all bad decisions, and humanity can be peaceful again, like in the Garden of Eden, originally.  Well, Marion Cotillard is beautiful enough to make Michael Fassbender want to please her and do what she asks, but she's incredibly underutilized in this role, as his her father, played by Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, who, it turns out, is actually one of the Knights Templar, eager to take over the Apple himself, which just might be interred with Christopher Columbus inside a cathedral?  And when it's exposed to the sunlight, it gleams like metal and starts radiating light of its own?

            Well, never mind the convoluted plot.  It's all really just an excuse for almost non-stop video violence, which is fairly convincing, as are the costumes and set for 15th-century Spain.  But wouldn't it have been more interesting to have pursued the Christopher Columbus angle, and leave the Knights Templar stuff to Dan Brown's novels and the Masons' liturgies?  As it is, this film is like watching someone else play a video game that makes no sense and has no rationale:  a violent ballet with practiced form but no discernible purpose.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Implied in all the murky theology here is the classic issue of whether Adam and Eve's original sin necessarily causes the rest of us to inherit a sinful nature.  What do you think?  Are we born to be bad, or are we born with a clean slate and later choose our own evil?

2)                  If you could channel a person from your ancestry, do you think you would find clues about your own identity?

3)                  Dr. Rikkin eventually realizes that even possessing the Apple will not end all violence; that universal peace is “not going to happen.”  Do you think it's possible for humanity to live in peace?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association