Assassin’s Screed: Just Where Did the Assassin’s Creed Movie Go Wrong?

For fans of the franchise who are into hunting down modern-day relics as well as ancient ones, Assassin’s Creed hit stores on DVD and Blu-ray this month. It’s a perfect opportunity to take a second glance at the movie and ask just what went wrong?

Ubisoft’s long awaited Assassin’s Creed movie was universally savaged by critics upon its release late last year, like an Assassin set loose on their Templar target.

The lump of coal in the cinematic Christmas stocking, the film was another casualty of the now infamous ‘curse’ that haunts Hollywood adaptations of video game properties.

But why did it fail?

Wasted Potential

Assassin’s Creed holds up slightly better on a second viewing than most critics and fans gave it credit for the first time around.

Just slightly. Like the franchise’s Unity installment, it’s still littered with ‘bugs’.

A lot of these are encapsulated in its historical scenes. Ubisoft’s alternate history of the Spanish Inquisition is definitely faster and more tightly-scripted than the slow, toneless and messy present-day narrative.

Yet it also suffers from a confusing character arc that squanders its potential.

The Who? The What? The Why?

The opening scene of Assassin’s Creed has some great exposition. But is there room for improvement?

Following a Star Wars-eque opening crawl that outlines the age old Assassin/Templar conflict, we take a Leap of Faith into 15th century Spain with Aguilar’s initiation into the Brotherhood (complete with a few nods to fans as the Assassin’s recite their Creed and chop off his ring finger).

We discover that the Brotherhood have clashed blades with the Templars in the Assassin stronghold of Granada where the local Sultan watches over the Apple of Eden.

Aguilar commits himself to the protecting the Sultan’s son from the Templars who seek to kidnap the boy and use him as leverage to get their power-hungry hands on the ancient artefact.

This short, but vital scene delivers a large chunk of what the audience needs to know:

    • Who’s our hero?
      • Aguilar, a newly-recruited Assassin.
    • Who’s our villain?
      • The Templars
    • What do they both want?
      • The Apple of Eden
    • Why do they want it?
      • The Templars so they can rule the world
      • The Assassin’s so they can save the world

It’s a lot of exposition to dump on the heads of an audience, but Assassin’s Creed just about makes it work through the use of the initiation ceremony.

But is there even more potential within this scene?

One Apple to Rule Them All

Let’s rewind the movie back to that opening crawl.

Why not take a Lord of the Rings approach and present the Apple of Eden’s lore in a ‘One Ring to rule them all’ style?

We never once get a demonstration of the artefact’s power. Audience members not versed in the game’s mythology have no idea why it’s so important.

In other words, just what is at stake if the Templars win?

The Apple’s powers feature heavily in the games, with both the Assassins and Templars decimating one another via remnants of the artefact.

Even the final Spanish scene in the palace could have made use of the Apple’s power. Why not have Aguilar and Maria face-off against a weaponized Apple in the hands of the Templar Grand Master?

Moment of Truth

Aguilar’s initiation sets up a clear character arc, something painfully absent from Callum’s present-day narrative.

Before he sets off to save Granada, the Brotherhood demands that their newest recruit take the ultimate vow:

Is Aguilar willing to put the Creed before both his own life and the lives of the Brotherhood?

This is the central question that guides Aguilar’s character arc; Will he make the ultimate sacrifice? Will he uphold the Creed and prove that he is a true Assassin?

Fellow Assassin Maria is on-hand to make sure that Aguilar isn’t side tracked from his path, with regular reminders that ‘Love makes us weak’.

No matter what goes down, Aguilar must put Creed before crew.

This central question injects a whole syringe worth of dramatic tension into the finale as Aguilar finds himself caught in an Assassin/Templar stand-off with Maria’s life in the balance.

Aguilar threatens to take the Grand Master’s life, while a Templar enforcer keeps Maria’s close to his blade. Should Aguilar let Maria die and save the world? Or sacrifice her and destroy the Templars?

Aguilar stays his blade to save Maria. But the Templar drives six-inches of steel into her neck anyway.

So did Aguilar fail?

Moment of Failure

Yep. When faced with his Moment of Truth, Aguilar bottled it.

To paraphrase the great Sargent Gunnery Hartman: “The deadliest weapon in the world is an Assassin and his blade.”

Sacrificing Maria would have been a brutal act, but it’s what the Creed demands of its adherents. That’s why it’s called the “Assassin’s” Creed.

A counter-argument could be launched that Aguilar did the right thing by trying to save Maria. That the Creed itself suffocates its adherents by forcing them to bury their humanity.

But Assassin’s Creed never aims for this level of thematic depth. Aguilar failed to uphold the Creed. Failed. As in ‘Didn’t Succeed’.

Put aside his subsequent take-down of the dastardly Templar duo and daring Leap of Faith escape from the palace. He could have achieved this five minutes earlier had he upheld the Creed.

A Missed Opportunity

If Aguilar had, at any stage in the entire movie before the palace scene, wrestled with the burden placed upon him by the Creed, then the ending could have been justified. But he didn’t.

He failed his Moment of Truth because the script set out the goal of both Aguilar and the Brotherhood as one and the same thing:

Uphold the Creed. Stop the Templars. Save the world.

Expanding more on his relationship with Maria would have provided an opportunity to add complexity to Aguilar’s character.

The quick flash of emotion the two Assassins share before facing the flames of the Inquisitors isn’t enough. If Aguilar expressed frequent unease about the Creed then it would have added greater complexity to his character.

Maybe time or budget constraints prevented an exploration of Aguilar’s character.

Maybe it was in the script, or even filmed, and now lies within an unpublished draft or a cutting-room floor somewhere.

For whatever reason it didn’t happen, it was a serious missed opportunity.

Better Luck Next Time?

There’s also a lot that Assassin’s Creed gets right with its historical scenes.

The Spanish Inquisition is a great setting for an Assassin/Templar conflict and the scenes are stuffed with nods to fans.

Ubisoft chuck in every Easter egg they can, from Assassin’s stalking silently through crowds, to hidden blades and hay bales.

But the storyline just doesn’t hold together.

Maybe a sequel can achieve the lost potential of this first movie. With a more complex protagonist and a greater use of the franchise’s lore, Assassin’s Creed could break Hollywood’s video game ‘curse’.

If not, then here’s hoping 2018’s Tomb Raider can leap to the rescue.

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