Assassin’s Creed Review

I’ve been waiting for this film for well over a year. After last year’s Macbeth (which had all the same technical crew and actors), I was super excited for Assassin’s Creed. Could it shake the video game-curse or is it another one to throw on the pile?

Assassin’s Creed stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed and Charlotte Rampling and is directed by Justin Kurzel. The film follows Callum Lynch (Fassbender) who after being saved from death row by a mysterious company has to relive the memories of his ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) from the Spanish Inquisition.

When I first heard about the Assassin’s Creed movie, I was excited when I heard they were moving away from the story of the games. This is what the film does right, it moves away from the story gamers would know and creates its own Assassin and setting, but leaves little hints for the eagle-eyed fans. Kenway’s flintlocks, Connor’s bow, Baptiste’s descendants, they make the world feel rich with history and lore that could be explored in sequels.

Sadly the film also takes the modern day approach to the story. Instead of it just being about the Spanish Assassin’s the film splits itself between that and the modern day wider narrative. We spend more time in modern day than in the Animus (the machine that allows Callum to relieve his memories), which for me was a problem. I came to see 1500s Spain not Michael Fassbender walk around minimalistic settings. The film only goes back to Spain three times, each only lasting around twenty minutes at the most. There is a reason Desmond Miles (the modern day character from the game) is never on the front cover, because we shouldn’t be focussing on him so why are we focussing on Callum rather than Aguilar?

The actors aren’t doing their best work either. Michael Fassbender flits from cracking jokes and madness to being stoic and brooding with no reasoning behind it. Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons look vacant for most of the film with Cotillard only getting some character development near the end. The most interesting character is Maria (played by Ariane Labed), an Assassin that works with Aguilar. Through subtle looks and gestures, it feels like there was a relationship building up between her and Aguilar, but it never builds to anything. Credit to Fassbender and Labed though for learning Spanish for the sections in the past.

The part that annoyed the most was the camerawork. I do not for a second believe that Adam Arkapaw, the man that was responsible for the beauty of Macbeth, True Detective, and The Light Between Oceans, signed off on these shots. The trailer showed off long extended shots and excellent cinematography, but there is none of that in the actual film. Fight scenes are incomprehensible, parkour chases lack cohesion, and everything is shrouded in fog. Every time the Animus is booted up, we have a long sweep of the area from above, but it’s hardly visible due to the fog and clouds. The best shot is the one of Maria killing two guards, but it was in the trailer. The fight scenes also cut between the action unfolding in the past and then Callum doing the action in the Animus. Cutting between two plains of action is just confusing and takes away from what we actually want to see.

It really is a shame. With Fassbender, Cotillard, The Kurzel brothers, and Arkapaw all working together again on a film, it shouldn’t be bad. But there is none of that spark from their earlier films here. I will say, it’s a film that gets better as it goes on. It’s only in the final third where true character development happens and we get some of those action scenes we were promised, but it’s too little too late. I do wish for a sequel though. Hopefully they will take heed of the criticism and develop the film based on the feedback of both fans and critics (of which I am both).

Score: 4/10 Not truly terrible, but not great by any stretch.

Gods Of Egypt Review

I’ve been waiting for Gods Of Egypt for a good couple of months now. Released in America back at the second half of February, it was commercially panned by critics. The director started calling film critics “deranged idiots” and “utterly worthless”. So naturally I wanted to see it, despite having to wait three more months before it came out in the UK.

Gods Of Egypt stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Gerard Butler and Courtney Eaton and is directed by Alex Proyas. The films follows god Horus (Coster-Waldau), as he must team up with the mortal Bek (Thwaites) to defeat the evil god Set from destroying Egypt.

I won’t deny I had fun in Gods Of Egypt. For maybe around five minutes overall, a little bit here and there, I liked it. Everyone is playing it up to the nines; metal CGI god-bird things are flying around smashing into each other and generally the film is unabashedly campy. I mean, quality actors like Chadwick Boseman, Rufus Sewell and Geoffrey Rush are in this. They must know it’s a ridiculous film but they are having fun with it. Thanks to Christopher Nolan, every big spectacle smash-fest thinks it has to be smart and broody. For that, I almost want to be lenient on Gods Of Egypt, it’s glorious in all its inept idiocy that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself for brief moments.

But please understand, it’s not good.

For all the exquisite cast, it really is poor acting. Geoffrey Rush looks like he’s about to fall asleep when delivering his lines. Chadwick Boseman is mincing around the place like Raul Julia and leading man Brenton Thwaties has only two emotions, earnest and REALLY, REALLY earnest. There is no chemistry between Horus and his bride Hathor (played by Elodie Yung) and nothing that can really get me invested in these characters or their struggles. That might be down to the script (written by the director Proyas), which are mostly just reused lines from every other blockbuster-budget movie that has ever graced cinemas.

I quite enjoyed some of the action scenes. Sure, it’s just big CGI messes smashing together, like a five year-old playing with their toys, but some were entertaining. A battle between Horus and two of Set’s lieutenants (riding giant Cobras) was fun while it lasted and the opening of the film, where Horus and Set face off, morphing into their metallic forms was enjoyable. Another point, when Bek must raid Set’s treasure room, which is filled with traps, was entertaining enough, even if it was over quite quickly.

My main problem with the film though was the extraordinary run-time. The film is over two hours, which is not acceptable for a film like this. There are several scenes that I could cut, where nothing is being added to the narrative or characters.

Some people have been calling this the worst film of the year. I don’t object to people called it bad, but the outlandish villainization of this one film is ridiculous. Sure, the film is rather simple-minded, loud and whitewashed or Orientalized (go read Edward Said), the script is messy, the characters are either wooden or pantomime and it drags on for way longer than it need to. All fair points, but several films that have come out of Hollywood have a few of the same problems. The Star Wars prequels, Avengers 2/ Civil War, Batman Vs. Superman, Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Angry Birds Jurassic Park 2-4, they all have at least one or two of these problems. Even the original Clash Of The Titans/Jason And The Argonauts that Gods of Egypt is referencing have them. Yes, Ray Harryhausen is legend and his work shines above criticism, but the other parts of his films are really quite bad (trust me, I’ve seen them both in the past week).

In summary, Gods Of Egypt is dumb. It doesn’t get a recommendation from me, but it’s definitely not the worst film of the year. Maybe one for lovers of spectacle and campy cheese, but for everyone else, it’s a no-go.

Score: 4/10 A so-so big-budget adventure with many faults.

Warcraft: The Beginning Review

Video games have never had their day in cinema. While some come close (Silent Hill and Tomb Raider 2, in my opinion) none have ever had widespread acclaim. Now Duncan Jones, director of the fantastic Moon and Source Code is trying his hand at adapting the massively expansive World Of Warcraft to film. Does it change the idea of video games films or is it another sad, failed attempt?

Warcraft: The Beginning stars Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Ben Foster, Ben Schnetzer and Paula Patton and is co-written and directed by Duncan Jones. With the Orc home-world dying, the Orcs come together to take the human realm of Azeroth for their own by force. But a young chieftain (Kebbell) wants to try and live peacefully with the humans. He tries to link up with the commander of the human army (Fimmel) in an attempt to save both his race and Azeroth.

Let’s begin with the good. The art direction for Warcraft is one of the best things about the film. While it has diluted the vibrant colours of the original world and added a more realistic look to the characters, the creatures that inhabit Azeroth are an impressive technical marvel. The detail and nuance, especially of Orc protagonist Durotan (played by Toby Kebbell, who played Koba in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes) is great and shows that Jones has a care for the series. He wants to make a good film and will not settle for poor digital effects.

The merging of CGI and live-action is also another good point of the film. The characters blend seamlessly through built sets and then into green-screen battles, with very little slip-ups that break the immersion. Some of the cinematography as well, particularly the opening, an over-the-shoulder battle between Orc and Human is very nicely shot.

Sadly that’s where most of the good ends. We have to talk about the bad stuff.

The script is the biggest weak point and it brings down the rest of the film. While the film does try to set up its own new mythology and franchise, a lot of it will be confusing to people who don’t know the games, such as myself. It’s a lot of new places and people; The Fell, The Horde, The Alliance, Stormwind etcetera. It’s all dumped on us through exposition in the first half an hour and before we’ve got to grips with it our main characters are already flying away to mountain-top fortresses and we are completely lost.

The rest of the story feels like a grab-bag of clichés of fantasy storytelling and other fantasy-based films. You can see its influence, (Lord Of The Rings/Hobbit and Dawn of The Planet Of The Apes are the main ones) and since it’s just wanting to set up a new world, it falls back on the tired stereotypes of not just fantasy films but also storytelling in general. It’s such a bog-standard story, you can see the twists and turns from a mile off and with the ten or so main characters, none of them are ever developed well. The best is Kebbell’s Orc Dorutan, mainly through his family interaction that opens the film. Even at two hours, it feels rather empty; characters are dropped rather anti-climactically near the end and since Jones wants it to be a trilogy, we have a lifeless ending.

I found myself really wanting to like Warcraft. After ten years of being in development, and Blizzard Entertainment even turning down legendary hack Uwe Boll’s bid to the rights, the story of Warcraft as a film should have a happy ending. But sadly we haven’t made progress with games based films, and as someone who loves games as a medium and as an art, it makes me weary. But we still have Assassins Creed in December, let’s hope it finally changes, right?

Score: 5/10 The fans are the ones who will get enjoyment.