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'Assassin’s Creed' review: Michael Fassbender's action flick dumb fun

By Bruce Kirkland, Special to Postmedia Network

Entertainment Review

Assassin’s Creed

2.5 stars

  • Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Michael K. Williams
  • Directed by: Justin Kurzel
  • Written by: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage
  • Duration: 115 minutes

Assassin’s Creed slays me: I have rarely had so much fun watching something so stupid.

Spun off as an “original” story set within the nearly 10-year-old game world that spawned it, this is a time-travelling, science-fiction, fantasy-action drama with a deeply dark romantic subplot. It delivers the goods in none of its categories and genres.

Except for the action part: This is where the fun is. This is where producer-star Michael Fassbender, who is apparently nuts about the game version of Assassin’s Creed, gets to go to stylish extremes. Supremely fit for a guy who will turn 40 in April, Fassbender spins, jumps, twirls, leaps, glides, dives and falls with balletic grace as his dual characters kill in the name of survival and the creed. Stunt doubles are obviously involved, too.

Fassbender, who is arguably one of the English-speaking world’s greatest contemporary actors, plays a double role. One is Callum, who lives in 2016 America. He is a convicted murderer who is about to be executed by lethal injection. He still has nightmares about the death of his mother, by his father’s knife-blade.

The other character is his Spanish ancestor Aguilar de Nerha, who lives in 1492 Spain. He is a professional assassin who is devoted to protecting a powerful God-device, which he must keep out of the hands of the evil-doers in the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically the Knights Templar and the bloodthirsty lunatics behind the Spanish Inquisition of the late 1400s.

In this ruinous world, those Catholics believe they can control the world through subjugation; the Secret Order of Assassins believe that peace will come only through the exercise of free will … and violence.

So this is an existential struggle, although any actual intellectual and moral precepts are here only by accident or by the posturing of secondary characters. At its core, Assassin’s Creed is a celebration of fighting, fleeing and the art of parkour on the rooftops of medieval Madrid.

In any case, a couple of modern mad scientists played by Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons are using the resuscitated Callum to connect him with Aguilar’s memories, through their Animus machine. It is part octopussy-robot and part hocus-pocus. But the scientists hope that this process will solve the riddle of what happened to that all-powerful device, which contains the secrets of creation and represents the Apple of Eden. Aguilar is the last person known to possess it.

Now, if you believe all of that gobbledygook, I salute you. I found the screenplay tedious, if you tried to follow the history, the religion, the cultural politics and the science. Nonsense remains nonsense no matter how many actors try to explain it all.

Meanwhile, Australian director Justin Kurzel made no discernible effort to bring logic to the proceedings. He just gleefully unleashed his actors, stuntmen and a special effects effort on a massive scale. The action came alive, in an electrifying way. This effect lingered even if you did not really give a damn who survived any given knife/pike/sword fight or horse/carriage/wagon chase scene.

As for Fassbender’s vaunted acting skills, they were wasted in this movie. He did once get all weepy, without actually sobbing, in the role of Callum. And he did have a singular moment of sadness in the role of the assassin Aguilar, when somebody else dies.

But those scenes do not constitute an actual performance. Fassbender is merely physically present as Callum/Aguilar. That is all this movie requires of him, to look cool in a 15th century hoodie.

And all it requires of you is 115 minutes, during which you must suspend disbelief, disengage your brain and watch the spectacle. Many viewers may find that far too much to ask of an audience.

Twitter: @bruce_kirkland

BKirkland@postmedia.com