The golden apple in the garden of video-game films; Assassin’s Creed (2016), dir: Justin Kurzel

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Prepare yourselves for the exception in video-game film genre. Take it from someone who is unfamiliar with the games, and detests video-game movies, like Warcraft (2016), Lara Croft and Resident Evil (well..all of them), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010 – sorry Jake…) etc. The trio (director Justin Kurzel and actors Michael Fassbender – who is also one of the producers and Marion Cotillard) that created Macbeth (2015) returns with an utterly different story and format. Mythology, Apple of Eden, highly-trained assassins bearing an important deadly mission, scientific, the Spanish Inquisition (stakes, persecution etc.), eagles, parkour, fights, chase, Sinister figures, conspiracy etc. These are all included in the film that seems to have been conceived in the Dan Brown conspiracy universe with the addition of impressive parkour chase acts and a little bit of Marion/Fassbender magic.

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Cal (Michael Fassbender) becomes an orphan and a runaway when his father murders his mother. Thirty years later, he is sentenced to death for murder. He is about to be executed when his life takes an unexpected turn. Abstergo Foundation transports him to their facility in Madrid where Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) offers him a new life, if he agrees to help her find a relik of the past. This item is none other than the Apple of Eden, which contains the genetic code for free will. Why he is the guiding map to the relic? Because of his blood line, part of his DNA belongs to his ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha who is also the last man who is known to have had the Apple in his possession. Dr. Rikkin’s machine, the Animus allows people to relive genetic memories of their ancestors so Cal’s mission takes him to Aguilar’s and Maria’s (Ariane Labed), his partner’s path in ensuring the safety of the Apple.

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There are several things I loved about this film: it would be unfair to dismiss its strengths out of holes in the storyline. First, it has a brilliant score signed by Jed Kurzel (the director’s brother), which sets the accelerated rhythm of the fighting and running with the addition of dark and mysterious turns that match perfectly the colour pallet of the haunting Andalusia of torture and fear.

In addition, the Assassin’s Creed is different from its video-game peers in the sense that it has a cast that adds prestige to the simplistic story plot. Apart from the aforementioned protagonists, Jeremy Irons plays the sinister British figure (stereotypical but ever pleasing), Brendan Gleeson is [once more – Trespass Against Us (2017)] Fassbender’s overly dutiful and sullen father, Charlotte Rampling is the queen of the vicious Christian Templar that controls humanity throughout the centuries and finally, Michael K. Williams plays the humorous and passionate descendant of yet another assassin.

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The dialogue is subtle and clever, and the film’s atmosphere successfully transports you in the Spanish Inquisition era. The dark colour pallet and the costume design achieve the recreation of the 15th century era with the same detail found in a masterful painting [the cinematographer is Adam Arkapaw, another member of the Macbeth (2015) team]. The frenetic action (roof parkour chase mostly) is particularly refreshing as it is imaginatively choreographed and beautifully executed. The energy the film projects, whether it is achieved through the performances, the dizzying action, or the use of colour and movement in its composition compensates for the weak core story.

Assassin’s Creed is not a massive hit but unlike its own kind, it is not a boring and outrageously unreasonable film either. As a whole, it may disorient, confuse and provoke complete indiference for the Assassins’ life mission, probably due to a great dosage of fetishism. It is a pity because its themes of identity and duty (“A man grows by the greatness of his task” ~ Cal justly claims) are universal and everlasting. While watching the film, and not having been able to identify with the characters (Oops…) I had sparse thoughts and questions around these themes. Questions, such as ‘Will you follow a predetermined path, or draw your own?’, ‘If free will is so precious then why do we deny it on a daily basis?’, ‘Why people feel the need of believing in something so completely (whether it’s science, violence, religion, another person, work, a bad or a good habit) that their existence is absorbed in it?’.

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Finally, my most intense thoughts were about this Animus machine that I would crave to have. Undoubtedly, given the chance I would use it all the time until my friends held an intervention. It must be thrilling to experience the memories of your ancestors and have access to everything that accounted to your existence. According to M. Szyf’s and M. J. Meaney’s body of research in behavioural epigenetics, alterations in brain neuron pass down from one generation to the other. The idea of accumulated experiences of you past generations is scientifically proven and that is what makes the film’s concept intriguing.

According to the new insights of behavioural epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA (http://discovermagazine.com/2013/may/13-grandmas-experiences-leave-epigenetic-mark-on-your-genes). Wouldn’t you love to go back and witness everything that shaped you into who you are (genetically at least) and become a natural historian in the meantime? Experience the danger of a battlefield but without being inflicted a single scratch?! Redefine yourself through the fragments of time that are inside you anyway?

In spite of being a somewhat mediocre film, in the Assassin’s Creed can be found scenes of excellent acting and action that redeem this period piece; Fassbender’s physical acting approach to the execution scene, the mental game of influence/ trust between him and Cotillard, Fassbender singing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, and all these juicy Andalusian parkour chase scenes.

I suggest you take the “Leap of Faith” and watch this one because….

“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

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Author: CinémAmoureuse

I grew up in Athens and have adored cinema since I was a kid. My very first intense cinematic experience was the Titanic at the age of 5. I love the 40-60's b&w Hollywood era and I enjoy expressing my amateur thoughts on all films that come my way.

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