Last week, I got the chance to head down to London to see the opening 15 minutes of Ubisoft and 20th Century FOX?s upcoming Assassin?s Creed film. I?ll admit I was skeptical going in, considering how hit and miss video game-related movies have been in the past. However, when it came time to leave the event, I was much more optimistic.
Before I get into my thoughts, here?s a little background on the film itself. Assassin?s Creed tells the story of Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a death row inmate whose mother was murdered when he was a child. On the day of his execution, Callum is taken to a secret Abstergo facility, where he is introduced to the Animus?a machine that allows people to relive the memories of their ancestors. Upon entering the Animus, Callum begins experiencing the memories of Aguilar, a member of the Assassins in 15th century Spain. And thus, the age-old fight against the Templars that Assassin?s Creed fans know and love begins.
What I?m excited about
A New Setting
It would have been easy to go with an already-established setting from the game, but the decision was made instead to focus on a new setting with new characters. This is a fantastic idea, as it gives the team way more creative freedom, and offers a chance to create characters from the ground up?rather than working within the constraints of previous games. Little Easter eggs are fun, but shoehorning in characters who don?t really belong is not.
The unique setting of 15th century Spain also offers a jumping-on point for people who may not be familiar with the franchise, while giving existing fans something new to enjoy.
?Our approach from the beginning was to make a stand-alone movie and, therefore, not to use any of the existing Assassins or main characters from the game,? Jean de Rivieres, vice president of Ubisoft Motion Pictures, said. ?We also felt it was important to expand upon the existing universe and give these fans, who have spent hours immersed in these games, something new.?
My biggest take away from the preview was the redesigned Animus, as Abstergo?s most iconic piece of technology is getting a facelift in Assassin?s Creed. For example, the machine?s table layout has been replaced with a robotic arm. According to the movie’s director, Justin Kurzel, this new design allows the patient to move and replicate memories to aid with the Bleeding Effect. For those who are unfamiliar, the Bleeding Effect allows the patient to assimilate skills, abilities, and knowledge that their ancestor possesses, but also has been known to drive said patient mad with overexposure as ancestral memories can begin to blur too much with modern day ones. The brief look I got showed Callum climbing and jumping around virtual environments that mimic what Aguilar is experiencing. It certainly makes the present-day sections more interesting and entertaining to watch.
Unlike most video game movies, Assassin?s Creed is trying to remain as grounded in reality as possible?well, as close as you can get with a machine that allows people to relive ancestral memories. A large majority of the action and fight sequences are performed by the actors and stunt people with minimal CGI?this includes a 120-foot Leap of Faith performed by stunt man Damien Walters?giving the film a believability that would have been lost otherwise.
?So many of the fight sequences and stunts are performed by the actors and real stunt people,? Kurzel explains. ?I could have shot it all in a parking lot and made it very CGI-heavy, but I thought what was really interesting was how we could make the audience feel as though it were possible; that Assassins in real life can jump between buildings.?
After watching the brief action seen I got to see, I can safely say that the decision paid off. Seeing Aguilar and Maria?Aguilar?s closet ally?struggling as they fought through buildings and barely making jumps gripped me more than seeing them pull off impossible leaps across 20-foot gaps would have.
I can?t comment much on the story as we only got the setup, but from the opening sequence?in which a young Callum comes home to something I won’t spoil?I was intrigued. I had several questions after the preview was over, but sadly, I?ll have to wait until December like everyone else to get the answers. Fast forward several years, and Callum is now on death row awaiting execution for beating a man to death. Again, more questions, and very little in the way of answers. The good thing is that the opening 15 minutes piqued my interest, which I believe is one of the most important things when it comes to movies. Whether this can carry through the entire film, though, remains to be seen.
What has me worried
It?s a double edged sword. As mentioned above, my main fear is how the story will progress. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on the present-day story, which usually takes a back seat in the games in order to keep the action flowing. I?m worried that focusing too much on that side will slow the pace of the film down too much. However, I have no idea how the rest of the movie plays out, so these fears could easily be unfounded.
Again, something that has me both excited and worried. The video games have several hours to establish and introduce new time periods and areas, but the movie will be limited to just a couple. Assassin?s Creed is known for its varying environments and exploring multiple events from the given time period, but how cutting this down to just a few key moments for the big screen will affect the film is unknown.
Another unknown quantity that could easily go south. The preview only introduced Callum and Sofia Rikken (Marion Cotillard), a scientist at Abstergo and the daughter of Templar Alan Rikken. While these two characters seem solid enough, there are several other Assassins and supporting characters that are yet to be seen. Then there?s the difficulty of introducing and establishing all these new characters in a single film. Also, the main character has always been an important factor in the series, and I haven?t seen enough of Aguilar to know if he can stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Altaïr and Ezio. A weak main character could spell doom for the movie.
Assassin?s Creed launches worldwide December 21st, 2016.
Photo Credit: Kerry Brown