I imagine the actor Michael Fassbender in his off hours, sitting by a crackling fire brooding over poetry with a glass of brown nearby. But after sitting through this head-scratching actioner — an elaborate 15th-century cosplay married to a Dan Brown thriller that is, in fact, adapted from a video game — I have adjusted my reveries: Fassbender must play Assassin’s Creed non-stop. It’s the only explanation for why he’d sign on to this mess. (If history teaches us anything, it is that no good movie has ever been made from a video game.)
At least he has fine company: Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling and Michael K. Williams also put in appearances. I’d prefer to see this top-caliber crew chew over a morally ambiguous courtroom drama, but narrative gobblygook awaits!
After a couple of prologues — one set in the 1400s, the other in 1986 Baja California — we scuttle ahead to the present, where Cal (Fassbender) is being executed in prison. Instead of dying, he wakes up in a different sort of confinement — a research joint in Spain where a father and daughter team (Irons and Cotillard) are searching for “the cure for violence.” Toward this, they have rounded up the descendants of an infamous assassin group, which includes Cal, to explore these baddies at the genetic level. They hook up Cal to a virtual-reality machine known as the animus, which causes him to relive exciting times in 1492 as his ancestor, Aguilar. Why? Because that’s the year that the assassins grabbed and hid “the apple of Eden,” a gizmo that is the origin of free will; the institute folks hope Cal/Aguilar will lead them to it.
Director Justin Kurzel splits the action between the past and the present, and spends plenty of the budget on old-world Andalusian set pieces and costumes. The assassins have groovy hooded outfits, are very good with swords and knives, and practice a particularly fun form of parkour with lots of body flips. (You need crazy cardio to be an assassin!) Their arch-enemies are the Knights Templar, the original “Say ‘Merry Christmas’!” cranks. It’s a lot less confusing than the present, where I could never even figure out who was the bad guy, what purpose Cal had or what you’d do with an apple full of free will anyhow. The most succinct aspect of the conclusion was that this muddled film is remaining ready for its likely unwanted sequel.