While the big screen adaption of the video game Assassin’s Creed won’t be in theaters until the end of the year, last night movie-goers everywhere got their first look at the hotly anticipated blockbuster. The debut trailer delivered about two minutes of footage, giving audiences a look at the basic story and action of the film. If you watched the clip and found yourself interested in the feature, stay tuned, because we recently got to watch the first 20 minutes of the epic.
As part of a big press event in London this past week, I recently joined a small group of other journalists for a special Assassin’s Creed presentation that included a screening of most of the movie’s first act. While not heavy on big action and fight scenes, it gave us a great taste of the world that the film is building, as well as the impressive scope of its sci-fi premise.
Beginning with some rough CGI/pre-visualization artwork, the film begins following an eagle as it floats through the sky over the New Mexico desert. "Young Men Dead" by The Black Angels plays non-diegetically over the action, and as the camera pans over a small town we witness quaint desert life – eventually landing on a young kid sitting on a bike, his face covered in cuts. He rides into the center of the township, passing people along the way, but none of them smiling or doing more than just standing around.
The kid – whom we eventually discover is Michael Fassbender’s character, Callum Lynch, at age 10 – arrives home and sees his mother sitting in the kitchen as he walks in through the front door. The music changes to Patsy Cline’s "Crazy," playing in the room, and after a moment, it becomes very clear that his mom is dead, her throat slit and blood dripping down off of the charm hanging from her wrist. Callum comes towards her in a state of grief… and we discover that his mom is not alone in the kitchen. The boy looks to a man murmuring in the corner and says, "Dad?" His father, with a full beard and wearing a cloaked jacket, concealing blades on his wrists covered in red, speaks to his son, saying, "Your blood is not your own, Callum."
Outside, cars begin to pull up, and while Callum goes out the back, his dad goes out the front door. Callum runs as fast has he can, crying and sprinting, while his father goes out to confront the men who have exited their vehicles and have drawn their weapons. We never hear them shoot, and once again we see the eagle in the sky, flying above it all.
The story then cuts to 28 years later, where the action picks up at the Huntsville Department of Criminal Justice – where Callum is incarcerated. We see the protagonist (now played by Michael Fassbender) in his cell making chalk drawings – an activity, from the way his living space is decorated, that he enjoys. On a television we hear the voice of Jeremy Irons’ Alan Rikkin, who speaks about his work at Abstergo Industries and their work to isolate the gene that determines violence, and how it could usher in a future without violence.
We listen in on a conversation between a priest and a staff member at the prison, who go into detail about what has happened to Callum in the years since we first met him. After his father killed his mother, he wound up going into multiple foster homes, living a rough life as a teen, and five years ago beat a man to death with his hands. After this conversation, the priest goes to Callum – and while the prisoner explains that he is not a religious man, it’s explained that the priest is there to comfort him. Callum is about to be executed for his crimes, and notes a poem that his mother used to recite to him: Robert Frost’s "After Apple Picking." The priest recites this verse from memory, and we watch as Callum is brought to the room where he is to receive his lethal injection.
As Callum is put into place, and the witnesses take their seats, the prisoner says his final words: "Tell my father I’ll see him in hell." We see Marion Cotillard's Dr. Sophia Rikkin lurking in the shadows as the injection begins to enter Callum’s blood stream. Everything begins to go fuzzy as our perspective changes to the dying man’s, and we see flashes of random images and memories – including his dead mother sitting in the kitchen. This may seem like the end for Callum, but, of course, it is not.
Callum wakes up in what looks like an advanced hospital – and he is clearly very surprised that he is not dead. Sophia is at his bedside, reaches out, and introduces herself. She explains that he was executed yesterday, and that "as far as anyone knows or cares," he no longer exists. Understandably perturbed by this, Callum begins to try and get out of bed, and complains about his eyes – which is explained away by the toxin he was given to get him past the prison doctors. Dr. Rikkin explains that she is there to help him, and that he is there to help her, which Callum responds to by getting out of bed and basically crawling away. Rather than stop him, orderlies are instructed to let him go, and slowly the man begins to regain his strength and get back to his feet. He passes people in the hallway, one girl delivering a creepy and familiar message "Your blood is not your own."
Callum goes upstairs and begins to run, eventually finding himself in a room with a beautiful garden – including a fruit-rich apple tree and an incredible view over the city below (the facility being revealed to be embedded in the side of a tall mountain in Madrid). Moussa (Michael K. Williams), one of three other men in the room, approaches Callum, and explains that they eat their food, take their pills, and wait to die. Appearing in the room, Dr. Rikkin explains that our protagonist is not a prisoner, but is instead there to be protected and part of an attempt to perfect humankind. As Callum gets near the edge of the room – which doesn’t have a window – Moussa tells him to jump – but Callum stands down as Dr. Rikken tells Moussa to stop. The strange fellow patient explains that there are "eyes in the walls," an Callum is hit with a tranquilizer. This upsets Dr. Rikkin, who feels that her father (Jeremy Irons) is impeding her work and she explains that she has everything in control. The footage concluded with one final line: "Prepare the animus."
As those who are familiar with the Assassin’s Creed game know, all of this footage eventually leads to Callum being put in a device that will allow the future hero to experience the perspective of his ancestors – placing him in the body of an assassin during the Spanish Inquisition – but the opening definitely provided us with the film’s sense of tone, style, and, of course, character.
Having personally never played the game on which Assassin’s Creed is based, I can’t fully speak to the fidelity that it all has to the source material, but I most certainly did find myself intrigued by the set up. Director Justin Kurzel, who previously worked with both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard on his big screen adaptation of Macbeth, certainly seems to be angling at the material with an interesting poeticism that both creates a nice beauty in the world/ugliness in violence contrast, and doesn’t make the movie feel like it’s based on a game. From its set-up and premise, it does seem like it’s going back to the well on some tried-and-true sci-fi concepts, but the door is open to cool and interesting takes on ideas like time travel and the power of genetics.
The reason Assassins Creed footage we watched had so much roughness to it is due to the fact that the movie still has a good amount of time to go in post-production before it’s finished and ready to arrive in theaters. That will all go down at the very end of his year, as the movie will be in a cinema near you on December 21st.