Look: ask any fan of the Assassin’s Creed games what the best part is, and they’ll tell you it’s running around as an assassin in fabulous historical locales. The whole thing with “it’s actually a genetic memory of a guy hooked up to a sci-fi machine recalling his ancestors” is a weak narrative conceit the series honestly should have left behind with the first game. But the one place where Assassin’s Creed definitely could have left that framing device behind is in the upcoming movie adaptation, the first trailer for which you can see above.
Now, trailers are an art form, and a difficult one at that. Condensing a film’s most compelling moments into about a minute is never an easy task. But if I were in an editing bay with this movie, I know what the first thing I’d cut would be: all the sci-fi stuff about the Animus. Say you have never heard of Assassin’s Creed in your life and you see this trailer. You get as far as the guy getting hooked up to a motion rig, and maybe you’re thinking this is going to be a cool dystopian thriller sort of thing, but no, now there’s some dude with a robe and knives up his sleeves and someone’s mentioning the Spanish Inquisition. It’s not just mood whiplash, it’s genre whiplash. Is this a sci-fi, or is it a historical action/adventure movie? Is that Marion Cotillard? Where did the knives up the guy’s sleeve go? Are we even supposed to care some shady organization has abducted him? ARE THEY ALL THE SAME PERSON?
A little mystery in a trailer can draw your audience in, sure. But this looks like two movies shoved together into one clip. We used to do mashups like this a lot in film school: use narration from one of your classmate’s films to connect disparate scenes from two other films, let a continuous direction of movement fool the viewer’s eye into thinking they belong together, cut, print, have a good laugh. That’s the art of editing, getting the brain to accept connections that don’t exist in any material sense. And that’s the real leap of faith of the trailer, way more than the one we see Michael Fassbender make: trying to sew together these two different stories that actually have very little to do with each other.
It would have been so easy for this trailer to stick with just the assassin-y footage and make no mention of its weirdly convoluted setup. It would also have been so easy for someone in a script room to say, before shooting even began: ‘You know what, this sci-fi wrapper is unnecessary detritus and we can get right into the story faster without it.’ Instead, everyone just doubled down.
Maybe Assassin’s Creed will end up a fun film. No one’s seen it yet, so if you wish to remain optimistic, please continue doing you! I however am bummed that one of videogames’ most popular franchises had a clear opportunity to reinvent itself and didn’t. Ah well.
EDIT (5/13/2016): A previous draft of this article stated that the actor playing Aguilar was Jake Gyllenhaal. In fact, it is Michael Fassbender. Gyllenhaal played the protagonist of a completely different videogame film adaptation, Prince of Persia. We regret the error, although in our defense, it can be difficult telling all these white actors playing Arab guys apart.