“What the fuck is going on?” mutters Michael Fassbender’s character through clenched teeth, reasonably early on in the course of this interminable film, based on the lucrative video game series Assassin’s Creed.
You can imagine each of its stars – Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Essie Davis – saying much the same thing while looking through the script, before being directed to the fee on the last page of their contract. It’s an action movie, with dollops of thriller and splodges of Dan Brown conspiracy; and hardly five minutes go by without someone in a monk’s outfit doing a bit of sub-parkour jumping from the roof of one building to another. And yet it is at all times mysteriously, transcendentally boring.
I bet playing the game is much more exciting. But then getting Fassbender to slap a coat of Dulux on the wall of his hi-tech prison cell and monitoring the progressive moisture-loss would be more exciting.
The idea is that Fassbender plays Cal Lynch, a criminal tearaway who is about to be executed for murder by lethal injection. But he is spirited away by a creepy corporation called Abstergo Industries with links to the government, and forced to be a human lab rat. And why? Well it’s obvious. This organisation has discovered that Cal is the descendant of one Aguilar de Nerha, member of a secret brotherhood of warrior assassins in 15th-century Spain, dedicated to battling the tyrannical Templar Order, and rescuing and protecting the original Apple of Eden, which contains the seeds of man’s first disobedience and is therefore the crucible of man’s free will.
The Abstergo organisation’s leaders – glassy-eyed Sofia (Marion Cotillard) and her cadaverous, creepy, polo-neck-wearing dad Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) – want to use a VR machine to get Cal to regress to his 15th-century street-fighting, building-jumping self, ostensibly to research into violence. But could it be that they themselves are secret Templars who want to use him to track down that all-important but strangely dull Apple of Eden?
Theological pedants might grumble that the point about the Apple is that it no longer exists because it was eaten. At the very most, it can only exist in a half-munched form, surely? But this is very far from being the point. Cal is going to be plugged into this machine, with its occult “animus” component, to transfer his soul back in time for some brawling and stabbing and cowl-wearing. Marion Cotillard says in her doom-laden accent: “Prepare the animus”; and it sounds worryingly like “Prepare the enemas”.
There is no animus in this film, however. It’s rare to see a film quite so lacking in animus. It exists only to gouge money out of gamers. They might well want to stick to the game.
This article was written by Peter Bradshaw, for theguardian.com on Monday 19th December 2016 20.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010