Editorial: Assassin's Creed needs more than Fassbender
Video games and films are not generally on good terms. Hollywood has tried to crack the nut over and over, but the infamously terrible examples of adaptations continue to mount. Producers still haven't figured out what makes a successful video game to film adaptation, but we have a pretty good idea of what doesn't. And as much as I enjoy the work of Michael Fassbender, his name alone isn't enough to inspire confidence in the Assassin's Creed film project.
Don't get me wrong, I think Fassbender is a fine choice. He's a talented and respected actor, and we already know he feels comfortable taking on a more fantastical role thanks to his turn as Magneto in X-Men: First Class. In fact, he stole the show with a sheen of moral complexity layered over intense ferocity -- absolutely perfect for an assassin in Ubisoft's world of justified killing and ethical grays.
But video game movies have taken time to find their footing with adaptations. First studios tried using the property as a loose framework with almost no connective tissue to the games, baffling viewers who wanted to see their games treated with some dignity. About halfway through watching Mario Mario and Luigi Mario encounter a devolved fungus, we recognized the problem with this approach. Then the films became a little too faithful, offering extended fight sequences with only the loosest plot. But without being active participants in their stories, it was difficult to care about the plights of Sub-Zero and Johnny Cage.
Similarly, the films have taken different approaches with their emphasis on actors. It's safe to say now, through the lens of hindsight, that actors are not the lone key to a great movie. Some have taken B-level talent in favor of an effects budget, while others like the Lara Croft films bankrolled a bigger star to take the lead. But a great actor won't necessarily make a great movie, or even a very good one. Timothy Olyphant took the lead of Hitman -- and while I won't hear an unkind word about the acting chops of one Raylan Givens, the movie itself was serviceable at best.
Even a great actor backed by big budgets can be problematic. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time starred a fairly respected actor in Jake Gyllenhaal, and sported an enormous budget to boot. Jerry Bruckheimer was attached, and all signs pointed to a rollicking summer action flick. Despite a decent box office return, it released to poor reviews and a lukewarm reception from fans of the series.
When the story is lacking, nothing else works. A studio can bankroll all the talented actors and best effects artists in the business, and nothing about a storytelling medium will work if the story itself isn't worth telling, or isn't told well. So-so actors can make an great film out of an amazing script. But great actors with a poor script have no where to go. Ubisoft had the talent and the budget lined up for Prince of Persia, but didn’t seem to focus that same attention and care to its script.
Which brings us back to Michael Fassbender. I'm glad he's on-board, and curious to hear more about the other casting choices. I hope that Ubisoft has plans to make more out of the lore and mythos of the Assassin's Creed franchise, and I sincerely think that the world is rich and interesting enough to craft a great story. But Fassbender's charm and talent can only carry the movie so far. To truly transcend the game-movie divide, Ubisoft needs to put serious thought and effort into the underlying mechanics of storytelling: dialogue, plot, and pacing.
Fassbender is a great choice. Let me know when you have a notable screenwriter, and then I'll really get excited.