Warning: There will be minor spoilers for the Assassin’s Creed movie in this article.
The Assassin’s Creed movie’s initial reception hasn’t exactly been positive. By no means is it the worst video game film ever made, but it squanders a lot of the potential the series has, especially when it comes to characters. The film’s most absolute flaw is that it does little to engage you with any character, their motivations, or why you should care about them.
We first meet protagonist Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) as a child. The death of his mother sends Callum on the run for much of his life, and this is virtually the only piece of background information we’re given on the character. The film then instantly flips to Callum in jail 30 years later, and viewers are expected to just run with it, without really giving you time to understand his personality or motivations.
Callum has clearly taken to a life of crime, although the nature of his crime is never made explicitly clear. He’s given the death penalty, his death is faked, and he’s handed over to Abstergo Industries, the Templar research company. In traditional Assassin’s Creed style, the Templars are using his Assassin bloodline with the Animus technology to search his ancestral memories, hoping to find the location of the Apple of Eden. We’re told that the Apple holds the secret to erasing human aggression, but are given no description as to what that really means.
This presents another issue — there is no clear definition of what anyone really plans to do with the Apple, right up until the very end of the film. There’s some strange dissonance that’s created with Callum’s character as well, as he seems resigned to being in the Animus and searching the past, but initially shows resistance when he first wakes up at Abstergo.
Things seem like they may become clearer when Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), a scientist who’s the architect of the project and Animus, enters the story. Unfortunately, most of the conversations between Sofia and Callum are info dumps used to familiarize viewers with Assassin’s Creed lore and how it relates to 15th century Spain. This leads to rather boring pacing for much of the movie, and a missed opportunity to explore history through the past rather than in modern conversations.
Later on, we’re also introduced to Sofia’s father Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), who’s the founder of Abstergo, but even he feels like nothing more than a stereotypical villain. He seems to care deeply about his daughter, but eventually undermines her professionally with little regret or care.
Each of the three main actors in the film do a fine job, they’re all incredibly talented actors, but their characters aren’t given any depth. Callum is a criminal who seems to just go along with anything, Sofia does little more than stand there and explain things for the majority of the time, and Alan’s motivations are confusing.
All of these issues compound into an experience that takes a bit to piece together, but also leaves you with little attachment to anyone.
On top of this, we’re introduced to a handful of characters in the Abstergo facility that are all captured Assassins. Each one is given practically no development, besides the fact that they’re part of the order. They factor into a final battle at the end, but are given so little screen time that you’ll barely remember them by the time they pop up again.
For what little context we’re given on the modern characters, it’s somehow even worse for the historical sequences. One of the main appeals of Assassin’s Creed is traveling back in time and exploring historical settings. The series does a grand job at putting you into the shoes of a legendary assassin, mingling with key figures of history, and altering the very fabric of the world itself. A combination of original story and historical context is where Assassin’s Creed truly found its stride, and so it’s incredibly disappointing that the film barely spends any time in the past, and does so little to utilize the setting.