Hollywood may have finally produced a video-game adaptation worth watching

Michael Fassbender is here to save the genre.
Michael Fassbender is here to save the genre.
Image: 20th Century Fox
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Early this morning (May 12), 20th Century Fox released the first trailer for Assassin’s Creed, the film based on the popular Ubisoft video-game franchise of the same name. It looks good.

In a vacuum, that wouldn’t be surprising, given the talent involved in making it (more on that later). But we do not live in a vacuum—we live in a world where video-game movie adaptations are, without exception, terrible.

Take a gander at this list of adaptations, starting with the mythically hokey Super Mario Bros. film in 1993 all the way to last year’s Hitman: Agent 47, which was the second failed attempt in eight years to adapt the Hitman games to film. No adaptation has scored higher than a 44% on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

The most highly regarded (if you can call it that) example of the genre is arguably Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a 2010 Disney film directed by Mike Newell, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ben Kingsley. It was vaguely entertaining, which, for a video-game movie, is high praise indeed. It scored a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes.

But our nightmare may soon be over, for Michael Fassbender is here to take the video-game adaptation out of the doldrums, and into the Hollywood pantheon of prestige. Watch below:

Some fans were not thrilled with the use of Kanye West’s “I Am a God” in the trailer, but the general reaction seems to be one of cautious optimism. The film comes out Dec. 21 in the United States.

The main conceit of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is this: the player controls a modern character who can travel back in time and experience the memories of an ancestor, using a machine called the animus (that’s the huge claw-like device that Fassbender is strapped into, though it looks much different in the games).

The animus is operated by Abstergo, a shadowy corporation that is actually the present-day cover for the Templar Order—a secret society hellbent on world domination. For centuries they’ve been battling the Assassins, who, as you can probably guess, are literal assassins, despite their desire for peace.

For nerds, it covers all the bases—it’s one-third science fiction, one-third fantasy, and one-third historical fiction. The story line is not totally unlike that of Star Wars—dark versus light, good versus evil, spanning hundreds or thousands of years. It’s excellent Hollywood fodder.

In the film, Fassbender plays Callum Lynch, a death row inmate forced to enter the animus in order to live out the memories of his ancestor Aguilar, an assassin during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century. Marion Cotillard plays an Abstergo member in the present day. Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, and Michael K. Williams also appear.

Assassin’s Creed is directed by Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel, who’s coming off his compelling and stylish adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth—which, not coincidentally, also starred Fassbender and Cotillard. Adam Arkapaw, who’s responsible for the brilliant look of the first season of HBO’s True Detective, is the film’s cinematographer. At the very least, it will look beautiful.

The hope is that the film is more than simply fun to look at. With great actors and a skilled filmmaker at the helm, Assassins Creed might just, pardon the pun, assassinate the streak of awful video game adaptations. If not, well, there’s another Tomb Raider movie coming out soon.