Filmings of video/computer/whatever games are usually a wretched lot, as the fairly ghastly Warcraft demonstrated midway-or-so into 2016 (and let’s not even think about the Mortal Kombat films, the Lara Croft films, the Resident Evil films etc, etc).
Yet this effects-crammed epic from Gawler-born director Justin Kurzel distinguishes itself not just by way of its surprisingly prestige cast, but because of its wearying portentousness and pretentiousness.
Drooling fans of the game franchise mightn’t be too happy at this complex and depressing extension of its mythology – and they won’t be the only ones.
Kurzel (of Snowtown and Macbeth, who got involved at the request of star/producer Michael Fassbender) opens the film with a flashback sequence where the young Callum Lynch’s mum (briefly played by the director’s missus Essie Davis) is killed by the evil forces that will then pursue him for years to come and frame him for murder (or something like that). He’s somehow saved from execution by Abstergo Industries and wakes up in Spain, with Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard, Kurzel’s Lady Macbeth) informing him that he’s now part of the Animus Project – like it or lump it.
It seems that Fassbender’s Callum is to be hooked up (just like he’s playing a futuristic video game) and made to relive the memories of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha (also Fassbender), one of an order of assassins back in the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Rikkin wants to use his revelations to make wannabe-amazing breakthroughs in the field of criminal psychology, and to deliver lofty speeches about the nature of violence and human nature. But it’s all a trap, with a series of twists hitting somewhere in between all the interminable, chaotic and sometimes shaky-looking CG battle scenes.
What is amazing, however, is the cast here: Warcraft boasted appearances by Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper and Paula Patton, while Assassin’s Creed somehow roped in Fassbender and Cotillard, as well as Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling and, briefly, Brendan Gleeson, who mercifully only appears for about five minutes. Why did they all agree to appear? Was it the lure of working with Michael and Marion – or even Justin? Was it the promise of a nice holiday and a nicer paycheck? Or was it maybe all a Knights Templar conspiracy? Let’s all hope it was the latter.
Rated M. In cinemas from Sunday, January 1