Discuss This! is a regular film column that features Set the Tape‘s own Jenn Reid and Greg Mucci putting down their phones, stepping away from the pesky social apps that clutter their world, and talking about the things that really matter! From cult schlock to genre fares, all the way to the best of the worst, nothing is off limits when it comes to discussing the films that make up their world, reminding us that at the end of the day, there isn’t anything quite like a one-on-one conversation to discuss this (and maybe that)!
This week, as Avengers: Infinity War continues to dismantle the box office while A Quiet Place demonstrates that horror is here to stay, Jenn and Greg decide to visit the battered and bruised world of video game adaptations, not with this year’s surprisingly fun Tomb Raider, but with 2016’s Assassin’s Creed.
So put down the controller, don that cosplay hood you’ve been hiding, and spread your arms wide open, because we’re butchering logic and diving off a 15th century steeple into the world of assassins!
Jenna: That was… a movie! I genuinely felt lost a lot of the time. I don’t normally have trouble following movies, especially action/blockbuster types, but I kept being like “Wait, what is that? Who are they? Is that how this works?”
Greg: Yeah, it really didn’t care about pacing or even exposition, which I admire, but what in the hell? We’re given so much within the first 15 minutes; hooded assassins, 15th century Spain, 21st century Spain, this gigantic metal arm, a murdering Michael Fassbender. It’s a lot! It was almost as if they just assumed we had all spent countless hours playing the games.
J: I was going to say, I never played the games, so I think that made me more lost. I didn’t realize the games weren’t just all in the past so the robot-arm quasi-time travel thing really threw me for a loop, and when he met the other “prisoners” in the cafeteria, like Michael K. Williams, I was like, “Who are these people? Is this a reference to something?”
G: That entire sequence of events was baffling! He’s like, “I’m hungry!” so she takes him to look at old artifacts. Then he’s like, “I’m hungry!” so she feeds him more exposition. Then when he finally enters the cafeteria, there’s some inside joke about chicken?
J: So confusing! At one point in this movie I just shouted at the TV, “What is going on????” Then the movie was like “I don’t know, but here’s some assassin ghosts talking to Fassbender!” Were mystic powers always on the table?
G: In the film or the video games? I mean, there was definitely mysticism, or quasi-religious power dynamics with that damn apple, but it just exploded at the end. Ghost Essie Davis playing a murdered mom talking to her son while his dad, a wasted Brendan Gleeson gets killed? It was a whirlwind and I’m pretty sure I still have whiplash.
J: Yeah, the mystic apple was one thing, and the “we can use science to go live our ancestors lives” was also pretty out there, but when the Ghost Mom showed up and started talking I was just like, “I do not get how this is happening.” This is ultimately a whole other level of nonsense I was not prepared for.
G: They tried for a hot minute to explain the mechanics and the neuroscience behind it, but it fell by the wayside, as if halfway through they realized that geeks everywhere just want to see slow-mo assassins fucking shit up.
J: Yeah, and so many great actors are just wasted! Brendan Gleeson does nothing, Michael K. Williams is like side character that you think is going to be important but isn’t really; Charlotte Rampling is just like, there?
G: I know! So many actors showed up with maybe a half a day’s work. I can’t believe Charlotte Rampling is in it, and Essie Davis, who must have been on vacation and just in the vicinity.
J: It is *insane* the amount of talent they got for this script! And the assassin action scenes were definitely a high point. They were running on wires and jumping 97 feet in their dramatic capes! It was very entertaining!
G: The 15th century action was the highlight of the film, even if the cinematography and color palette was drastically mundane compared to Macbeth. Except the action kept cutting back to Fassbender attached to this contraption, as if that was supposed to be what wowed us.
J: Yeah, I would be sucked into a scene where the assassins are running on rooftops and fighting 800 bad guys, and then it would splice regular Fassbender in while Marion Cottilard shouted something. Did they not know what the interesting part of the film was supposed to be?
G: Yeah, it’s almost as if they thought that they were integrating this new technology into film; the claw! But it was immensely distracting, and holy good lord, did Marion Cotillard look bored!
J: Random tangent: Fassbender is a murderer and they kind of made him the hero anyway. What’s that about? He literally killed a guy. He says “Oh, he was a pimp!” That’s supposed to make it okay?! Bro, you were sent to death row for murder!
G: Personally, on an ethical level, I’m completely okay with people taking lives in a self-defensive manner, which I think is what they were implying, or maybe where they wanted to go. But it goes nowhere, leaving us to believe that he killed someone because they were a pimp? Which is like, not cool? I was very conflicted.
J: Yeah, like there were ways they could have played that; “it was self-defense!” or “he was a pimp who was attacking a girl and I had to stab him to get him off her” or even “I was framed, I didn’t kill anyone!” Instead they kind of just shrugged and moved on. Wait, what?
G: It took on this weird high ground after that, embracing this “pimps are bad” kind of idea, which works for the aristocratic guild that controlled the assassins, but Fassbender’s Cal is supposed to be our anti-hero. Oh, wait… is it because being an assassin is in his blood?! Wow, that’s so… unclear!
J: Oh my god, yup! That must be it! It’s also sort of the whole problem with the movie though: they have this big, complicated idea but they’re not actually executing it on screen so we as the audience are just trying to make sense of it.
G: And when it doesn’t make sense, we lean on the action scenes as comfort, but those are so pieced together with this ideology that it becomes a frustrating exercise in our patience and coherence. Then there’s this 500 year old romance, that even if I was there, I wouldn’t be able to feel. It was so removed from anything tangible or believable. Ultimately, I wanted more of everything *but* the god damn claw.
J: The romance! Did the woman even have a name?
G: She may have been given a name, but I was probably still mulling over the chicken joke from the dining hall.
J: I feel frustrated by this movie because I think there was a good one hidden in there somewhere, but what we got instead was needlessly convoluted and boring at the same time, which is a feat!
G: The real feat is how there are a handful of Assassin’s Creed games, all with more engaging elements and stories than this. Why not just stay as faithful to that as possible? I played a bit of the first game, and it’s a whole lot of fun! To create something as wildly misfired as this, with numerous examples of where to take it, is staggering.
J: But isn’t this the case with all video game movies? They’re all so insanely terrible and no one can figure out why!
G: I’m a big fan of Silent Hill, and I can always enjoy Resident Evil, even if I do want a straight adaptation in the style of a B-film, but yeah, it’s certainly had its ups and downs. The latest Tomb Raider played it very close to the rebooted games, and it worked for it. It wasn’t amazing, but it was fun because it looks and feels authentic while playing it straight with actors who felt engaging. This felt like it really, really admired the Prince of Persia adaptation, which is a huge red flag.
J: Maybe Alicia Vikander can give her husband tips! And I do always like Fassbender more than I remember. He’s really talented and surprisingly engaging in action films. I think he’s actually a great choice as the lead here, but the film really didn’t live up to the casting.
G: Wait, Fassbender is married to Alicia Vikander?
J: Yeah! They got married last year.
G: Huh, I bet Assassin’s Creed is their safe word in the bedroom…
J: That’d kill anyone’s mood.
G: But yeah, I think Fassbender has great depth and range, which is why this should have played up his dramatic chops! He did just that in Macbeth, so maybe it would have felt a little redundant, but I’m okay with that. It really should have stayed in 15th century Spain.
J: It really should have! At the very least, bookend the film with the present day nonsense but keep everything else in 15th century Spain. Like maybe Marion Cotillard’s character drops him in the machine, and then at the end he still has to break out and destroy the apple. Let us get to know the Assassins while seeing all the fun high-flying aerobatics.
G: Totally agreed! It could have even had Cal discovering that if he stays locked into the machine, battling in 15th century Spain, that he would lose his mind and be gone forever. Give him some reason to fight to get back. Hell, I don’t care how cliché the story becomes; there are dozens of ways to spin this story into an engaging film.
J: Yes! Early on with the claw, Cotillard said “You can’t change anything that happens!” — I thought for *sure* that was foreshadowing and he would totally be able to change things, maybe meld with his past self and destroy the apple. But I guess the movies had different ideas.
G: Even that paragraph is confusing to me! This films plot makes me feel like my grandmother when we replaced her VCR with a DVD player. I can’t help but stare at it and wonder what it all means.
J: I wonder what the vibe was like in theatres. I remember seeing Sucker Punch and everyone was like, “What was that? What happened? Does anyone here know?”
G: I wonder what the demographic was like. It opened at #5, so if that’s any indication, it was maybe a few thirsty Fassbender supporters, and a couple video game fans.
J: It’s a great cast shoved into a script that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It’s all just very, very, inexplicably bad.
G: Ultimately I wasn’t bored, which could be in part to how baffled I was at its direction. It isn’t great, but hell, it’s better than a few comic book adaptations I can name. That’s a start, right? Right?
J: I’ve seen worse movies, but I’ll probably still never revisit this one!
G: It could make a fun drinking game! Take a shot whenever Michael Fassbender sees a ghost! Take a shot whenever Marion Cotillard looks bored! Yeah, I guess at that point you’re blackout drunk.
Are you a fan of the Assassin’s Creed movie? Or was a massive disappointment? Let us know what you think.