I love the game series and really wanted to like this, despite the iffy reviews. Well, I think I do like it, but there are some annoyances. The cracking premise - genetic memories are used to allow modern day individuals to 'travel' back in time to engage in the eons old war between Assassin's and Templars - is niftily delivered by the 'far too good for the likes of this' Macbeth team of Kurzel, Fassbender and Cotillard.
The meat of both the game and this film is the 1492 set pieces which, whilst there being nowhere near enough of them for my liking, were handled really well - just like the game, they had a real sense of pace and purpose to them, each one basically being one long chase set piece. The free-running and crazily acrobatic style of the Assassin's themselves was mirrored nicely in the shot construction and pace of the films, with just the right balance of fast editing to show the frenetic pace of the individuals and their pursuit, without ever getting obtrusive. Inventive, just like the game, these are without doubt the highlights of the film.
And, just like the games, the modern day elements are the dullest. Although still enough to keep the interest, thanks to that plot and the links to the modern day, the film definitely drops a notch or two when we leave medieval Spain. The cast are all game enough and its got a nice score, decent FX, its all pretty......ok.
But two things grate - one more so than the other. The first is to do with the script - the conflict between the Templars (who want to take away man's free will to control violence and make a more peaceful society) vs the Assassin's (who, er, don't) is played out far too broadly - each side is far too black and white, with the Templars being incredibly 'boo hiss' and the Assassin's being 'yay yay USA' (why are all the assassin's in Spain American????). The script could have made both a little more ambiguous and centred and explored each side far more to give the story a much more nuanced approach (surely both sides have points that could be explored?), which in turn would help the character motivations and better explain certain loyalty switcheroos throughout the film.
But the biggest thing to annoy is that for a production of this size, could they not afford light bulbs? Every single shot was swathed in darkness for no reason other than 'artistic' reasons - Cotillard and Irons are having a nice chat in an office....would they not have just switched the lights on first? Would they really have sat in semi-darkness, barely being able to see each other just to have a family catch up???? Even when the film is blatantly shot in daylight, its shot in such a way that almost all the foreground characters are solidly pitch black and in shadow, even against the backdrop of a scorching sun. Why? It made for a really frustrating viewing experience that just kept taking me out of the story.
On the whole, I enjoyed this slightly more than the mediocre reviews had me expecting, likely due to my affinity for the games, which its adapts really quite well. It is the best video game adaptation for me, although as mentioned, there's still flaws enough to somewhat annoy.
That darkness is not UHD's friend, certainly not on my 1080p PJ. Not as bad as AVP:R, but getting there in some cases, its permanently dark, which of course means the transfer just doesn't excite. The blacks have little to no detail in them (due to the transfer or design, I don't know), which means that the picture never pops. Huge doses of CG also softens up the picture at times, which all in means its not a superlative UHD experience. I'm going to watch bits of the 1080p BD on my LCD TV in a bit to see if the darkness was more problematic on the PJ. No such problems with the barnstorming Atmos track though - massively powerful, constantly in full on 'action mode', its huge sounding with all elements beautifully balanced. Music is bombastic and propulsive, dialogue is always clear and the sound effects pummel you from all angles all the time. Subtle? No. Enjoyable? Massively so.
Summary - its better than expected, with it translating the game really effectively, if sparsely. Where it fumbles is expending on the narrative behind the action scenes (which surely a movie can and should do over an interactive video game?) and more nuance between the two sides of the conflict would have greatly helped bring those modern day scenes more to life. The perma-darkness annoys and doesn't translate to a satisfying UHD viewing experience, although the Atmos track is a humdinger.