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Assassin’s Creed review: soars over the low bar of video game movies

12/20/16
Video game movies are sometimes mocked for forcing dramatic story arcs onto things that are essentially non-narrative, like the endless shooting gallery of Doom, or the physics puzzles of Angry Birds. But when filmmakers take on projects like Assassin’s Creed, based on the Ubisoft action-game franchise of the same name, they face a different problem: what’s the point? Assassin’s Creed, a game franchise that launched in 2007, is an intensely cinematic series about the generational conflict between two warring secret societies. Poke around YouTube, and you’ll find dozens of “movies” that are simply hours of gameplay and cutscenes spliced together, laying out exhaustively detailed sci-fi adventures that cover the entirety of human civilization and then some, from the Crusades to the near future and back to pre-human Earth. A Hollywood adaptation needs to feel like more than an extremely truncated live-action remake — and when Assassin’s Creed manages to do so, it’s by going smaller, not bigger.

Directed by Justin Kurzel (whose feature-film debut was the 2011 drama Snowtown), Assassin’s Creed is a standalone film that slots loosely into the larger franchise, based on a pared-down version of its complex lore. Like the games, the film posits that the historical Knights Templar are actually a powerful, long-standing shadow government seeking world domination — here, through an artifact called the Apple of Eden, which contains “the genetic blueprint for free will.” All that stands in their way is the Assassins, a group of anarchic warriors who have thwarted the Templars’ plans throughout history.

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