And probably nonsensical if you don’t
“I’m an aggressive person,” Cal Lynch, Assassin’s Creed‘s protagonist, explains maybe a half-hour into the movie. This is a bold understatement. Cal had been on death row just before Abstergo whisked him away to their science facility. Although the film doesn’t fully explain it, he was convicted of some sort of murder, and murder is about the most aggressive crime there is.
That’s how we can logically conclude that Assassin’s Creed is an aggressive movie: Because there is a lot of murder. It’s a weird conflict of interest of sorts because the entire thing is about eliminating violence from the human psyche. It’s just that the means of doing so is through a lot of gratuitous violence.
Assassin’s Creed doesn’t play coy about this disconnect, either. Abstergo’s Sophia Rikkin’s voice cracks as she quips “We’re not in the business of making monsters.” It’s that crack that tells us how uncertain she is, even though she probably wants to believe it. The audience is equally unsure.
The Assassin’s Creed movie shares DNA with the first Assassin’s Creed game. Before Abstergo was the bad guy, Assassin’s Creed was Desmond in a room confused as to what Abstergo’s motivations were. The film is similar. At every turn, it intentionally obfuscates what this organization is all about. Is it noble because it wants to end war? Or is it nefarious because it’s willing to push test subjects until they die?
Although it might not have meant to, the movie brings about a salient and under-noticed theme from the games: The Assassins aren’t necessarily good and the Templars aren’t necessarily bad. Assassin’s Creed Rogue does a decent job of presenting this theory, but that’s probably the only earnest attempt. Other games broadly infer that Abstergo and the Templars are evil because they’re the ones chasing the protagonist.
Interestingly, it’s those people who haven’t played the video games that will be more likely to have this takeaway. Assassin’s Creed players will spend the entire time waiting for the other shoe to drop. They know Abstergo is the villain, and so they’re already prejudiced. Newcomers might only be more likely to side with the Assassins because that’s the team Michael Fassbender is on.
While Assassin’s Creed smartly expends minimal effort definitively drawing sides, it unfortunately also does little to explain what the hell is going on. Major plot devices are glossed over, leaning on the assumption that the audience is mostly familiar with the series from the games. What the Animus is, why the need to relive ancestors’ memories, what kind of power the Pieces of Eden hold — these are all questions that aren’t given the proper screen-time to allow new audiences to suspend their disbelief in a way that science-fiction stories require.
In this way, Assassin’s Creed is almost pure fan service. There are smaller, more identifiable moments, too. Like when The Bleeding Effect first happens, there are a few beats for the viewer to think “Oh, that’s The Bleeding Effect!” before someone on-screen goes “That’s The Bleeding Effect.” It’s clever. It makes you feel smart for investing many many hours into the video game.
But it’s really this entire movie’s existence that’s the most blatant example of its fan service, not just those one-off moments. Those without any exposure to Assassin’s Creed might find that it works well enough as a popcorn flick, as long as they’re okay with the enjoyment being mindless. Anyone looking for a deeper understanding will be disappointed. Assassin’s Creed hides the pieces to its puzzle in an entirely different medium.