Michael Fassbender pulls double-duty as modern day convicted murderer-turned-kidnapee Callum Lynch and Spanish assassin Aguilar de Nerha in 15th century Spain, with Lynch living out the memories of his murder-maestro ancestor under duress from shady mega-corp Absetergo - the public face of the power-hungry order of Templars, who are waging an eternal war with the order of assassins over the MacGuffin-tastic Apple of Eden.
Can Assassin's Creed finally dilute the poisoned well of sludge that is the video game-to-movie adaptation genre? Nope.
When the first trailer for Assassin's Creed arrived in May 2016, fans of the top-selling video game series quickly tore it apart on message boards and social media – but not for the kind of reasons you might expect.
Any potential backlash against a perceived lack of authenticity to the source material failed to materialise. Even the film's re-vamped take on the Animus – now a mechanical creation that resembles an arcade claw crane that spent the weekend in 'The Matrix' – drew little ire from the Creed's faithful fan-base.
Instead, it was music producer-turned-rapper-turned-living embodiment of the human ego, Kanye West, that drew the most flak, as the outspoken musician's "I Am A God" played over the meticulously spliced footage.
The scuzzy bass notes and West's boastful rhetoric was too ostentatious, too ill-fitting, cried many, leading to re-cut trailers with other, "better" music. The track is notable by its omission in the final film, but in hindsight, after watching the portentous train wreck that is director Justin Kurzel's game-to-movie adaption, the track's self-aggrandising style (but certainly not its quality) aptly represents the bull-headed, self-important tosh depicted on screen.
French video game publisher Ubisoft's second license to tread the murky film-of-the-game waters (after the far superior, but still naff Prince of Persia: Sands of Time) suffers throughout from woeful acting, a repulsive, stodgy colour palette, and a screenplay that would be laughable if it understood what normal human emotions are. As an example, here are two choice dialogue exchanges from Assassin's Creed, presented without comment:
"Why the aggression?" "I'm an aggressive person."
"What now?" "We fight."
Assassin's Creed opens with a sequence that sets the stage for the film's humdrum plot and inexorable tone in stunning fashion, as the lead character, Lynch (Fassbender), is executed by lethal injection. Minutes away from this scene, a flashback shows a younger Lynch walking in on his mother's blood-spattered corpse – murdered by her spouse for reasons unknown.
Both of these events are not exactly what they seem at first – Lynch is merely being sedated by Abstergo, and the deeper relationship between his parents plays a not-so-crucial role in film's inane climax – and the film would like you to think that there is a broader web of conspiracy and intrigue running beneath these cold, clinical moments.
Instead, these "edgy" sequences come across as a desperate attempt at framing the film's endless reams of flimsy, psuedo-philosophical/theological pondering on free will, ancestral bloodlines and faith as having some kind of grave importance to Lynch's narrative destiny, rather than being what it actually is: nonsensical waffle that even literary hack Dan Brown would scoff at.
As a whole, the po-faced, unfettered, unwarranted sincerity – both visual and verbal – sits at odds with premise's inherent ridiculousness – we are told in a grand revelation that the film's uber-MacGuffin, the Apple of Eden, contains the genetic code for free will – but it also has no place in a film that features what are ostensibly superheroes, dressed in (relatively well designed) hooded, dagger-clad garb who fearlessly and acrobatically leap off towering structures Tom Daley-style, but without a pool to soften the landing.
Somehow though, the cast fall hook line and sinker for the relentless gloom. Fassbender grimaces and gurns his way through every scene as both the insanely gullible Lynch, and the mostly wordless, part-time protagonist, Aguilar. Marion Cotillard's emotionless, monotone delivery resembles what an audition for Hal 9000 in a 2001: A Space Odyssey remake might sound like, and Jeremy Irons hams it up in typical villainous Jeremy Irons fashion, but without any interesting to actually say.
Aside from a scant number of interjections from the ever-excellent Michael K. Williams, dreary humourlessness quickly becomes the status quo. Not every mainstream action film needs to adopt Marvel's glib twang, but an unwaveringly solemn tone isn't a solid foundation for a thrilling romp.
The film's most offensively boring scenes take place in the modern day, with the rooftop chases and fly-by shots found in the actual assassin-y bits establishing a vaguely convincing vision of what the Spanish Inquisition would look like if it took a detour in Middle-Earth. The appearance of trick blades, smoke bombs and other series staples combine well enough with the impressive parkour stunts – the latter assisted by a fluid camera that neatly emphasises verticality, cutting constantly between shots beneath and above the fleeing heroes.
Series fans may find some solace and enjoyment in these free-running, blade-swinging scuffles, with promising actress Ariane Labed's fleeting, but engaging role as the apple of Aguilar's eye and fellow assassin Maria a particular highlight.
Unfortunately, the past-present divide never fully resolves itself, with the constant cuts to Lynch undulating wildly while strapped into the Animus a jarring reminder that what we are witnessing in 15th century Spain is ultimately pointless window dressing for the dismal stodge set in the modern day.
Assassin's Creed ends with a sequel tease, implying with all the subtlety of a dagger to the face that the assassins and templars will be locked in cinematic duels for years to come. After suffering through a 110 minute smorgasbord of dispassionate performances, faux-intellectual posturing and clunky storytelling, this felt like a threat. Another video game-to-film adaptation rotten apple (of Eden).