Assassins Creed: As Good As You Expect A Video Game Movie To Be

I have no doubt that Hollywood will eventually make a good, if not great, video game movie. In recent years, Video Games have delivered richer, more insightful narratives then most big blockbusters. Almost 25 years after the abomination that was the Super Mario Brothers movie, its fairly reasonable to expect that we are finally due for a video game movie that does right to audiences and fans alike. But lets be clear: Assassins Creed is not that film.

Based on the Ubisoft series of action video games, the Assassins Creed film seems destined to be more notable for the talent behind the film, rather then the actual content within the films running time. Pulling in big named stars like Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons and so on would indicate something unique or interesting within the films’ script. Yet somehow, Assassins Creed does what many film adaptations succumb to, dumbing down elements that fans of the source material would enjoy, yet simultaneously adding too much exposition in many scenes so as to confuse newcomers.

Admittedly, the basic plot of the games can be equally confusing, following our protaganist experience the memories of his assassin ancestors and become an assassin in the process. But, perhaps in an effort to add extra drama to the film, the script tries to make a mystery out of which side each character is on, regardless of how clearly defined it already is. Several twists throughout the film reveal that certain characters are either an Assassin or Templar, despite our already knowing which side they already align with, leading to a major disconnect between the filmmakers and the audience. At times, you’ll be either 5 steps ahead of the filmmakers, and at others be completely lost as to what’s going on; more likely, you’ll just give up and stop caring, finding the film lacking in rewarding audiences for their time and money.

Not helping the undecipherable plot are performances that can best be described as un-involving. Regardless of whatever’s going on in the scene, most dialogue comes off as unemotional mumbling, often feeling as if the actors are simple reading right off the script. Fassbender does alright in the lead role, but the combination of no material to work with and a script riddled with cliche’s makes it impossible to connect with his present day Cal, or past ancestor Aguilar. We never get to learn anything about his supposed assassin friends either, wasting veteran actor Michael Kenneth Williams in the process. As for the villains, Marion Cotiliard suffers from a lack of motivation given to her character, resulting in a character with no defined side in the films conflict, and appears to switch roles unnaturally to support the script as needed. Special mention must be made of Jeremy Irons, an acting legend that we know can do better, but spends his time in Assassins Creed sleepwalking through monologues about control, order and other typical villain motivations.

As far as the split stories going on between the past and present, the far more interesting-in-concept past segments only account for barely a third of the films running time. We spend far too little time in the past, and as a result never get to learn anything about the characters, conflicts or stories in the past. What should feel like a parallel storyline going hand in hand with the events in the present is instead treated like action scenes to interrupt the main story, and the film suffers because of it. Making matters worse, the action is terrible, with over editing and poor cinematography serving as the main culprits; you certainly get the IDEA that something cool is happening, but rarely do you ever see this action on screen. For a film with so little else going on, its a shame that Assassins Creed couldn’t even succeed as the kind of mindless action film worth renting.

Ive seen a number of reviewers try and defend Assassins Creed, claiming that points like “it’s not as bad as previous video game movies” is enough to earn the film a better rating. I want there to be good video game movies as much as anyone else, but if we are to get good ones, we have to treat them as we did the comic book movies of the past. We had to praise the good ones, but more importantly call out the bad ones, if the genre is allowed to improve and evolve. Assassins Creed puts no effort into making an enjoyable, interesting or even coherent film, and is simply a waste of time.

 

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 3 Moments of Apple Symbolism out of 10

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Passengers: A Stalkers’ Love Story

Due to the insane nature of Passengers‘ plot, Reel Thoughts will be dividing its review into a small non-spoiler section, and a more in-depth spoiler filled review. We find that our impression of the film cannot be fully explained without giving away major details of the films’ story, and want to spare anyone considering seeing the film. So, Please enjoy the shortened, spoiler-free review bellow, with the full-spoilers review afterwards.

Spoiler-Free:

Passengers certainly isn’t without its bright spots, highlighted by generally good performances and an engaging first act. But once the main idea of the film is presented, the writing cant help but make this film feel far more disturbing then intended, turning what should be a space-set love story into something more unsavory. The film certainly tries to recover, but does so in a way that seems to miss what the problem with the script was in the first place. Combined with effects that never make you feel like you are really there, and a number of major plot holes towards the films climax, and There’s very little to recommend. While it may make for a fun rental, Passengers will likely be remembered less for the first on screen pairing of two Hollywood icons, and more for the ludicrous places the script tries to take its audience.

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 5 Concerning Ideas About Love out of 10

 

Spoiler Review

Passengers, on paper, seems like a perfect film: a sci-fi romantic thriller, staring two of hollywoods’ biggest stars, with an ad campaign that teases at a greater mystery in the film. Although certainly popular right now, Hollywood has been releasing Science Fiction films concerned with ideas like love for several years, with this years’ Arrival as the most recent example. But what this film may have lacked in originality, it was hoping to draw in audiences with its twist of what wasn’t being shown in the trailers. And while Passengers starts out engaging, it’s not long before the creepy nature of the script unravels the films initial promise.

While the ads presented that Co-Stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence wake up together in the beginning of the film, as a result of malfunctioning stasis pods aboard a spaceship, the film actually begins with just Chris Pratt’s pod malfunctioning. During the entirety of the films first act, we watch as Pratt’s Jim explores his new surroundings, realizes he is now alone on the ship for the rest of his life, and tries to make peace with this. Pratt’s entire performance at this point is left on his shoulders, and he delivers an engaging performance, pulling you into the sense of desperation that should come with current situation. The standout scene comes in a montage where Pratt experiences all the ship has to offer, beginning playful and childlike, and slowly turning depressing, as he begins to come to terms with the hopelessness of his new life. It’s one of the few real moments the film has, made better by the portraying most of reactions through visuals, rather then dialogue.

Everything for the film changes, however, once Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora is introduced. While the ads for Passengers made it appear as if her stasis pod had also malfunctioned, she is actually woken up on purpose by Jim. As Jim drunkenly walks into where the pods are kept, after a failed suicide attempt, he sees her sleeping in her pod and forms a bond with her. He spends the next few months in the film reading everything she has written, looking up everything he can learn about her, and struggling with whether or not to awaken her, which he ultimately does. The problem with this is that these actions are that not of someone in love, but a stalker, looking up ways to manufacture a version of himself that she could come to romantically invest in him. While the film shows his struggle with whether or not to wake her up, it never questions his looking up everything on her, creating this persona for her to fall in love with, and the questionable eeriness of Jim’s actions.

Once Aurora is awakened, Lawrence and Pratt show plenty of natural chemistry with one another. It makes sense that they would end up romantically entranced by one another, and obviously they end up falling for one another. What’s concerning about how the film portrays this is that while it begins by showing how disturbing Pratts’ actions are, there comes a point where the film suddenly switches sides, ignoring how he is responsible for taking away Aurora’s life, and instead looking at the events of the film as “isn’t it touching how these two found each other and have fallen in love?”. To answer your question, Passengers: this isn’t romantic, because Jim forced all of this to happen, and destroyed another persons life in order to do sowhich is less “romantic” then it is a deeply disturbing and selfish act.

While it is eventually revealed to Aurora that Jim is responsible for taking her life away, the script only continues to make bad decisions by trying to make the audience feel bad for Jim, often having him try to explain that what he did was okay “because he fell in love.” One particular scene has him explaining his disturbing actions to Aurora on the intercom of the ship as she tries to run away; with a change of setting and tone, this is a scene from a horror film, about a trapped woman running from a man she doesn’t know who has taken her and claims that he “loves” her. There is never a moment where Pratt and Lawrence’s characters sit down and discuss the disturbing implications of what Jim has done, and thus the film ends up being in favor of his kidnapping of Lawrence’s life.

The Last third act could have been spent trying to fix this, perhaps giving Jim a moment of realization, or the talk between our leads we discussed previously. Instead, the film tried to deliver a trial for our characters to overcome, through a malfunction that threatens to destroy the ship. While not done poorly, it’s an all too familiar third-act sequence, full of teasing character deaths and ticking clocks. It’s the kind of movie scene where lines like “theres no time”, “this is the only way” and “I have to do this” and thrown about a dozen or so times. Not helping matters are the subpar special effect, which while not bad in any noteworthy way, are fairly lackluster and green screen heavy, distracting from the emotional weight the film tries to portray.

In the final minutes of the film, it is revealed that Jim has managed to find a way to put Lawrence’s Aurora back into stasis and give her her life back. Instead, She chooses to stay with him, forgiving his actions without any explanation, and robbing the audience of an explanation for why we should forgive his actions. It comes off less as a “love conquers all” message, and feels more like a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome, where in Aurora resigns herself to the emotions she’s feeling, and moves past the fact that this man destroyed her old life in favor of making his better. It’s an eerie, highly disturbing look at how love works, whose muddled message carries with it an unfortunate translation for viewers who end up miss-interpreting it.

Ultimately, Passengers is a film about selfishness, where in no one pays for their own selfishness in any meaningful way. Jim steals vital resources from the ship to create gifts for Aurora and doesn’t pay for it, putting his needs over those of the other 5,000 members of the ship. He steals Aurora’s life from her so that he wont have to be lonely, and doesn’t even not pay for it, but be rewarded for his own selfish act by having her stay with him for the rest of his life. The film tries to romanticize its own view of love, which has nothing to do with attachment and connections, and instead has everything to do with attraction and selfishness. The first act may intrigue audiences, and there may be some okay effects and performances from the films leads, but Passengers script ultimately astonishes in how far it goes to try and justify and glamorize the deeply concerning actions of its lead actor, leading to one of the years most morally dubious film of the year.

Rogue One Modernizes The Star Wars Franchise

While The Force Awakens was certainly a critical and commercial success when it released last year, many complained that its success was due in part to its familiarity, using a familiar story structure to the now familiar A New Hope. More importantly then that, even fans agreed that although Episode 7 director J.J. Abrams had managed to recreate the feel of the original Star Wars films, his entry into the series play things safe, rather then adding new elements into the almost 40 year old franchise. With added pressure to correct the previous films’ mistakes, as well as supporting the existence of several upcoming side-story films, Rogue One shoulders the weight of many high expectations. But against such high expectations, the latest Star Wars film manages to deliver an exceptionally made blockbuster, that never lets its franchise ties eclipse its own merits.

The tale of the the brave rebels who stole the plans to the original Death Star already has plenty going against it, in as much as its a story where the ending is well known to anyone familiar with the original trilogy. But rather then try to keep the audience guessing as to the fate of our heroes, director Gareth Edwards instead chooses to frame the story as a look at the insurmountable odds our protaganist’s faced, and what it was that they sacrificed their lives for. While past films showed the war between the Empire and Rebellion through a series of skirmishes, Rogue One delves into the war at the heart of the original trilogy, looking in detail at the Empire’s subjugation of planets, as well as the more ruthless lengths the Rebels went to fight them. While the the film gives clear protaganist’s and Antagonist’s to root for/against, there’s no mistaking that our “heroes” are murderers and capable of bad things, grounding the conflict and reminding us of the real loss of life that is often forgotten in most Hollywood blockbuster films.

Much of this is thanks to the strong performances of our leads. Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso is a strong female action hero, who manages to remain realistically flawed and down-to-earth, even when put in fantastical scenarios. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor gives us a different side of the rebellion, showing the men tasked with less-heroic acts, such as assassinations and acts of terrorism; many of these honest looks at the actions of the rebels are put on Luna’s performance, and he is thankfully up to task. The supporting cast all deliver engaging characters, despite sharing limited screen time, with Donnie Yen standing out as the Blind force-wielder Chirrut Imwe.

Part of what makes Rogue One such a risk, as well as its greatest triumph, is the dramatic shift in tone. As previously mentioned, many parallels to real-world wars are shown in the actions of the Empire and Rebellion. Our heroic rebellion now takes on the role of terrorists, more concerned in their goal of destroying the Empire at times then they are in protecting the galaxy. Likewise, the Empire now comes off as a more ruthless and imposing foe, willing to sacrifice innocent lives and planets in pursuit of what they view as “order.” Despite going to such dark material, Rogue One manages to keep either side from feeling  black and white morally, a flaw many have cited with previous films. Likewise, the world returns to a dirtier look, making the alien worlds feel real and lived-in, which helps bring more emotion to the battles that take place within them. Should this film be a success, it’s likely that future films will have to address this dramatic shift in tone, which Rogue One thankfully benefits from.

The film’s new direction does cause some problems during the first act, as we jump between several planets and perspectives. While not engaging, there does come the feeling of a lack of connectivity between the events taking place, which makes it hard to invest in the events of the film early on. Once the second act begins, and our characters have come together for a defined purpose, the film quickly adds plenty of action set pieces and elaborates on the different dynamics between our characters. A few too many cuts might be made throughout the film, referencing characters and events in future films, but this never feels distracting to the immediate events going on, and manages to add context to certain characters placement in the saga as a whole.

Where Rogue One goes from good to great is in its final act, the climactic assault on the planet Scarif. A Saving Private Ryan-level depiction of war, here the darker tone benefits the film the most. Edward’s pension for filming large-scale events comes through, depicting how much the odds are stacked against our heroes, making every victory feel earned, and each loss that much more tragic. No character goes out in a blaze of glory either, keeping the film from turning death into a hollywood spectacle, and helping add to the emotional impact of each characters end. The finality of each death only makes the characters’ actions resound that much more, making Rogue One feel like an important story to tell, even with the well-known ending.

Rogue One is an important turning point for the Star Wars franchise, forgoing the more flashy direction of previous films in favor of a darker, more grounded approach. Only time will tell if Disney decides to explore this more in future films, but as it stands, Rogue One is one of the riskiest Hollywood films in recent memory, one that doesn’t compromise its darker vision in favor of mass appeal. This is Star Wars for the 21st century, and the future is bright in a galaxy far, far away.

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 9.5 Hopes Delivered out of 10