Two types of people will watch the Assassin's Creed movie, although we'd wager that most will end up feeling the same way once the credits have rolled; that being a lukewarm appreciation of a cinematic experience that's nowhere near as entertaining as it could have been, but that still manages to impress in places.
Those unfamiliar with the series might find themselves a little confused at times. There's story beats that'll be instantly understood by those who've played the games, but to a newcomer these series staples aren't always explained as well as they might have been, and things can get a bit confusing.
On the other hand, those who have played some or all of the games will, for the most part, come to the table knowing what's going on, although the cinematic interpretation of certain elements - in particular the Animus - are very different to what we've seen before. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it is worth mentioning that some creative license has been given to the film's creators.
There are a lot of little nods here and there that fans will like, such as the eagle that soars through several stunning historical vistas as we the audience hop between different periods of time. Indeed, the action that takes place in fifteenth century Andalusia is often a feast for the eyes, and it's obvious that no expense has been spared in realising this chaotic period of history. This is the time of the Spanish Inquisition and the fall of Granada, as Christians pushed the last Islamic dynasty out of Europe. It's against this tumultuous backdrop that much of the action plays out, and when it's good, it's both absorbing and entertaining.
Hollywood A-lister Michael Fassbender plays Callum Lynch in the modern day sections of the film, as well as his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha, an Assassin protecting the Apple of Eden (that fans will know from the games as an artefact that gives those who possess it the power to control free will). The Assassins are trying to hide it away, while the Templars - or Abstergo Industries if you prefer - are looking to uncover its whereabouts so they can take control of, well, everything.
The plot stays true to the established lore in many ways, and the juxtaposition between historical and modern is preserved. Abstergo thinks that Lynch's ancestor, Aguilar, knows of the whereabouts of the Apple, and thus the organisation captures him and sticks him in the new-look Animus so he can retrace the steps of his ancestor, walking in his footsteps in the fifteenth century, hopefully leading them to their ultimate objective.
If anything, Lynch's interactions with the Animus are more interesting here than in the video game equivalent, with Fassbender hoisted into the air by a huge mechanical arm and then interacting in a large open space, mimicking the actions of yesteryear while those around him watch on as history repeats itself. This is a good looking and thoughtfully designed movie, but it knows it, and there are moments where you feel like the production team spend too much time marvelling at their own creation, rather than giving us something more meaningful than a carefully struck pose.
These moments are few and far between, but they contribute to one of the film's flaws: sluggish pacing. There are too many lulls, and whether you know the series or not, you'll probably wish that they'd shaved a few minutes off the final cut. This is a strange complaint to make when you can also say that there are elements that feel very much under-cooked, with relationships between characters in the modern day setting feeling forced and lacking the context needed to give them authenticity.
It doesn't help that even a supporting cast that includes Brendan Gleeson, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons (the latter two playing a Templar father and daughter team) can't spice up proceedings. Cotillard makes a good go of it, wrestling with her conscience as she juggles scientific ethics with personal ambition, but for the rest there's just not enough meat there for them to bring anything meaningful to the story. Similarly, the transition we see in Lynch's character is too sudden, with his motivations lurching between polar opposites with too much haste, which makes the final act feel rushed, a contrast to the rest of the film which at times felt too pedestrian.
It's not all negative, though. The action sequences are good, and the series' long-standing tradition of parkour set-pieces is brilliantly observed. There's some stunning cinematography in there, with eye-catching shots and clever special effects intermingling to good effect. The plot can be a little confusing in places, but they've still managed to successfully transition a lot of what makes the games special. Having said all that, it's still hard not to view this as a missed opportunity. The lore of Assassin's Creed is rich, the overarching narrative is compelling to the point where it spawned one of the biggest franchises in gaming. This movie adaptation isn't bad, and it certainly rates highly when compared to previous attempts at bringing video game IPs to the big screen, but with all the weapons at their disposal, director Justin Kurzel and his team could and should have done better.
Looking back and reflecting one what we've seen, this is one of those movies that comes undone the more you analyse it. Still, despite its flaws, we had a fairly good time while in its company, and we hope they get another bite at the Apple (pardon the pun), because now that the scene is set and the cinematic universe is established, a sequel could very well build on these foundations and deliver something truly special.