You be soft, all right. As a gaming phenomenon, the Ubisoft video game series "Assassin's Creed" has been piling up bodies worldwide since 2007. Now we have the stupendously pretentious film version, starring Michael Fassbender (also producer) and Marion Cotillard, one frequently topless, the other not.
Fassbender and Cotillard first worked with director Justin Kurzel on an adaptation, released last year, of Shakespeare's "Macbeth," which Kurzel treated as a frantically kinetic warm-up for this new and larger project. Now, with karmic inevitability, Kurzel's "Assassin's Creed" comes at us with all the harrumphing tedium of second-rate Shakespeare. I wonder if the gamers who owe much of their last few years to the game series will go for it.
The convicted killer played by Fassbender, Cal Lynch by name, is new to this universe. Just as he's about to be executed in prison, he's whisked off to a schmantzy super secret overseas laboratory run by Jeremy Irons and Cotillard, playing brilliant and driven and vaguely bored father and daughter.
Then Lynch is whisked (there's a lot of whisking in this movie) centuries back into his genetic memories of 1492 Spain, where most of the film takes place. Cal's distant relative, whose spirit he embodies via a sophisticated, memory-tapping "Avatar"-like apparatus, fights with blade and fist and arrow and throbbing vein alongside his fellow good-guy assassins in Old World hoodies. They wish to gain control of the Apple of Eden, which contains the seed of human free will and all earthly powers plus, presumably, trace elements of vitamin B.
As Cal regresses, and learns more and more about his fighting potential and his family tree and the creed of the assassins, the tone of the movie becomes practically biblical in its solemnity. Let's be clear. It's just a mediocre action movie, poorly edited and larded with a terrible musical score, based on a video game. Nothing new there.
The wrinkle is the crushing hypocrisy in the so-called meaning of "Assassin's Creed." The sleekly outfitted masterminds played by Cotillard and Irons intend to cure violence and rid humankind of deadly aggression. Yet as millions of gamers can attest, the entire "Assassin's Creed" series spits in the eye of that notion. In addition to the leads, other fine actors picking up a check include Charlotte Rampling and Brendan Gleeson. The memory-travel machine, for the record, is called the Animus. The movie itself: anonymous.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
'Assassin's Creed' — 1 star
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language)
Running time: 1:56