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‘Assassin’s Creed’ an exciting, if strange, ride

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Director Justin Kurzel’s “Assassin’s Creed” has some vivid imagery of 15th century Spain. (Courtesy 20th Century Fox)
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In 2015, director Justin Kurzel and actors Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard teamed up for a prestigious cinematic adaptation, a bloody, mad take on “Macbeth.” In 2016, the trio moved from Shakespeare to… a video game?

Taking on the popular “Assassin’s Creed” game seems like quite the left turn, and while the results aren’t as striking as the previous outing, the film is thoroughly stamped with Kurzel’s unique visual style, which makes for an exciting, while strange, ride.

There is a complicated and deep mythology behind the game, and the film follows it mostly faithfully.

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Callum Lynch (Fassbender) is a death row inmate with a violent childhood. He is put to death by lethal injection, but wakes up in a clinic at the shadowy Abstergo corporation. The lead scientist there, Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Cotillard) claims she’s researching “the cure to violence.”

For his part in that, Cal is harnessed up to a giant mechanical arm called the animus and forced to regress to 15th century Spain, where he fights the Spanish Inquisition as his hooded assassin ancestor, Aguilar. Like a video game! And Abstergo? They’re just a front for the Knights Templar, the eternal mortal enemies of the assassins.

Both groups want to get their hands on “the Apple of Eden,” which has the genetic code for free will (man’s first disobedience). The Knights Templar want to bow people into peace through mental obedience, while the assassins are all about free will, violence and all.

If this story sounds hokey, it is, and somehow the screenwriters managed to come up with a script that is at once far too complicated and extremely shallow.

Still, Kurzel shoots the heck out of the film, especially the flashbacks, when Aguilar and his assassin companion Maria (Ariane Labed) parkour around ancient Andalusia, kicking some serious Templar butt. We know from “Macbeth” just how well Kurzel and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw shoot grimy, dusty, bloody Medieval times.

The scenes set at the Abstergo facility aren’t as visually exciting, but the sound design and score are tremendous, combining ancient Arabic music with droning drums and whispers to create a hallucinatory aural experience.

Though sometimes confounding, there are interesting themes lying just below the surface, particularly with regard to Cal as a prisoner who goes from one supermax to another.

As an entry in Kurzel’s oeuvre, “Assassin’s Creed” is fascinating for the ways it exemplifies his style and fascination with hubris, power and violence. It’s his mark on the studio blockbuster that make the brilliant parts of the movie worthwhile.

— Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

REVIEW

Assassin’s Creed
Two and a half stars
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Michael K. Williams, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Ariane Laped
Written by Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage
Directed by Justin Kurzel
Rated PG-13
Running time 1 hour, 48 minutes

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