It would be a mistake to watch Assassin’s Creed, full stop

Michael Fassbender's new film doesn’t even have the decency to be bad in interesting ways.

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Assassin’s Creed, an adaptation of the popular videogame, is a terrible film that doesn’t even have the decency to be bad in interesting ways. Though a writer, editor and director are all credited, it shows every sign of having been assembled by picking scenes at random from a hat and then bodging them together any-old-how. No film in recent memory so clearly screams: “Will this do?” The answer, should there be any doubt, is: “No.”

The mystery is that some outstanding people were involved in its making, people whose quality control has traditionally been high. The director Justin Kurzel made the terrifying serial-killer drama Snowtown and an impressive version of Macbeth. The latter starred Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, who also appear here. The impression is that there were a couple of weeks to spare at the end of the Macbeth shoot, and the three of them decided to rustle something up while they were kicking their heels. Certainly no one makes a film like Assassin’s Creed on purpose.

Fassbender plays a warrior in 15th century Andalucia who has dedicated himself to protecting the Apple of Eden, inside which lies the seed of man’s disobedience. Imagine biting into it and getting that stuck in your teeth. Yowser. The Knights Templar are out to get their hands on the apple in order to gain control of free will and stamp out violence forever — at least, that’s what they claim. Anyway, forget about that stuff because now we’re in the US in 1986, where a young boy, who will turn out to be the reincarnation of Fassbender, has come home to find his father murdering his mother. Actually, forget about that too because now it’s 2016 in Texas and Fassbinder is being executed on death row, only for his body to be hijacked afterwards by a doctor, played by Marion Cotillard, apparently in a trance. She is going to steer him through the memories of his ancestors in order to find the whereabouts of the Apple of Eden.

What we’re talking about here is regression therapy, though Cotillard’s accent does leave some aspects ambiguous. For instance, did she just ask her assistants to prepare the “animus” or the “enemas”? Details like those can make all the difference, not least to the patient.

He is going to live through the memories of someone who’s been dead for 500 years. But how does Cotillard know which bit of his memory to rifle through to find the relevant information? You know what it’s like when you need to locate one particular bank statement from three years ago — you can always dig up everything but. Well, she’s got that problem on a massive scale. Still, if the screenwriter isn’t bothered, why should she be? “Commence regression!” she barks. Perhaps that’s what Kurzel said instead of calling “Action!” before each take. After all, his film has the sort of playground fight choreography which suggests The Matrix, The Raid and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon never happened.

Whatever is happening in Fassbender’s memories — it’s usually biffing and powing — is acted out right there in the Texan research facility under the impassive gaze of Cotillard and her father, played by Jeremy Irons in a spotted neckerchief and a scowl. So the film has the distinction of being boring and bewildering in two time periods at once.

Occasionally Fassbender’s memories begin with an eagle soaring over Andalucia, though it’s not clear whether this is his point-of-view or, if it isn’t, then what it is doing in his memories. You can’t remember something you didn’t live through. But then it would be a mistake to watch Assassin’s Creed and look for consistency or coherence. Scratch that: it would be a mistake to watch Assassin’s Creed, full stop.

The film takes place either in dusty vacant lots or dull grey concrete bunkers where the hyperactive smoke machines ensure that everything is shrouded in a slight mist. (One exception is the Knights’ London HQ, which is essentially the set from The Weakest Link.) You can’t make out what’s going on and, when you can, there’s nothing to see anyway: the confusing battle sequences are like watching a football game where both teams are wearing the same strip. The movie doesn’t feel finished, the sets aren’t ready, the script doesn’t make sense, the score has simply been switched to the Generic Fight Music setting and the actors don’t know what they’re doing. “What the fuck’s going on?” asks Fassbender at one point. It’s funny because it’s true.

Assassin’s Creed is released 1 January 2017.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.

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