This is a gaming column so I almost never talk about movies, but in this case I felt it was still relevant in how it ties directly to a popular gaming franchise that is still active today. Before reading any further, please note that this piece contains Assassin’s Creed movie SPOILERS.
*I have played all the console Assassin’s Creed games except for Syndicate, including all three Chronicles titles and have seen the animated film Embers as well as the live action movie. I am basing all my information about the plot and characters on these important canonized works and not fan wikis or external novelizations that may or may not present additional information that can’t be found in the games.
Recently I saw Assassin’s Creed the movie. It should come as no surprise to anyone, but it was a bad movie. To be clear, I’m not just saying it was a bad experience in comparison to playing the games. I’m saying that it was a badly made film whether connected to a video game or not. But what I thought was interesting was that it was bad for many of the same reasons I complain about the games. Because of how Ubisoft has talked about the movie, I feel that it’s completely acceptable to compare the movie directly to the games. To be fair though, there are a number of possible key differences that make it plausible to place the movie in its own separate universe from the games. I am choosing not to do that here, because for the most part it’s not necessary to do.
The biggest flaws with the movie were the score, editing, and obviously, writing. I say obviously because the Assassin’s Creed games have had serious plot issues since at least Revelations (2011). The score was bad because they simply picked inappropriate music. The movie opens with a very serious scene about the initiation of Aguilar into the Brotherhood of Assassins. This happens during a war between the Catholic Church in Spain and the Muslims dug in at Granada in the 15th century. This is a very monotone but legitimate scene. They even go as far as showing you the removal of Aguilar’s finger and the presentation of his hidden blades as part of his initiation. At this point I was not unhappy. That is until the rock music started playing before the scene had even ended, totally destroying the dark atmosphere of the moment. Then the film transitions to a boy riding his bike in a desert in Baja California 500 years later. I’m not saying that the transition was great on its own, but it was considerably weakened for me with the upbeat, positive music used. Similarly, throughout the film, the style of music takes away from what should be a much darker overall plot. The sound quality and effects were fine, but the music chosen just ruins the tone of the film.
The editing was terrible for the exact same reason the games are edited badly. The constant need on Ubisoft’s part to try to directly link the past to the present and not let you forget about it. I won’t say 100% of players, but it’s definitely fair to say most players began playing and continue playing the Assassin’s Creed games for the plots and gameplay that take place inside the Animus. It’s not the boring Desmond Miles sequences or the faceless Abstergo employees that people play the games for. It’s being an assassin in some random point in history that looks awesome. People often debate about who the best assassin is. Most people say Ezio, but Altair and others always come up in the conversation. You know who I’ve never heard anyone say was their favorite assassin? Desmond Miles. And that’s not surprising. His story is boring and pretty much pointless when it comes to gameplay. He’s there only as a means to keep the games linked together in one “coherent” overarching plot. The problem with that is the fact that the overarching plot slowly devolved into an unfocused mess and even if that hadn’t happened, it still doesn’t change the fact that climbing places like the Roman Colosseum, the Palace of Versailles, and Constitution Hall to meet people like Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Richard the Lionheart are just way more interesting than running around office buildings collecting notes and talking to “evil” scientists.
When playing Assassin’s Creed (2007), I always hated the moments where I was playing through the game as Altair and they would just randomly pull me out of the Animus so I could hear Desmond think out loud for a while and then take a nap. These constant breaks within the plot didn’t add to the games, but instead took away from them. The movie is no different except that it does it even more. In the film, the Animus is not a chair that you lay in, but a fully interactive machine that has your whole body simulate the actions of the assassin whose memories are being channeled. Not only is that pretty ridiculous from both a physical and spatial standpoint, but it’s also annoying for the viewer. Rather than just letting us watch Aguilar in action, they felt the need to keep cutting the action scenes back and forth between Aguilar and his present day descendant, Callum Lynch, to make sure you remembered that this was all a past memory. They would show Aguilar fighting someone and then randomly cut to Callum in the machine doing the same motions. It wasn’t cool or creative. It was annoying and constantly suspended the viewer’s ability to focus on any one storyline.
In truth though, the bad score and sporadic editing pales in comparison to the problems with the plot both as a long time player of the Assassin’s Creed games and as an avid movie watcher in general. In many ways, the plot of the film changes or negates canonized principles and occurrences that have shaped the current direction of the games.
This film pulls the general ideas from the first game(s), but it ignores and changes some key aspects of how the story works. The story starts off in the same way where a boy didn’t know he was the son of an assassin and is kidnapped by Abstergo to help locate a piece of Eden through his memories, but there are some heavy deviations. The first is that the film comes off like there is only one piece of Eden in the whole world rather than the many artifacts that have been shown in the games. This of course may just be because of a lack of knowledge within the Templar order. Different pieces of Eden could be revealed and found later in future films. Of course, this wrongly assumes we would actually want/need any future films from this franchise. The piece of Eden in the film is not simply a mind control device like it is in the games. Rather, it’s some sort of odd data storage container that they claim will give the Templars the power to not just control man, but to rewrite man’s genetics and remove his desire for freewill and violence at the genetic level. That is a much bigger endeavor than just enslaving humanity into acting nicely towards each other through manipulating laws and opportunities.
Another key difference is that it’s apparent that many if not most of the assassins have been rounded up by Abstergo already and that the Brotherhood at the end of the film is a paltry three members total. This is not necessarily the case, but it is subtly implied. Along with that is the fact that the Animus supposedly existed 30 years prior to Callum’s introduction to it and that assassins were already aware of it back then. This makes the stakes of the film much more about escaping and hiding from the Templars than actually fighting the war. The fact that so many assassins were already captured and aware of each other makes you really question how the Brotherhood had even lasted as long as it has in the film if there’s no cavalry to speak of.
Really though, all this doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the progeny issue. One thing I had never seriously thought about before watching the movie was the question of ancestral memories and how they’re passed on. Now obviously the entire Animus concept is science fiction, but technically Ubisoft had done a mostly acceptable job of covering their bullshit science with plausible deniability. In my opinion, it’s one of the key reasons all the main title assassins have been young men. If memories are passed on to descendants, even if none of the games take the time to actually discuss the conception/birth of them, it’s plausible to say that at some point each of these young men went on to knock up some woman after the events that took place in the games. Altair, Ezio, Connor, and Edward were all young enough to where they could have later sired children after the end of their games. They even take the time to show you that Ezio went on to get married and have a kid in the short film Assassin’s Creed: Embers (2011). At the end of ACIV (2013), Edward has two children post credits. The question of existing descendants is never really an issue in the games. This is not the same for the movie.
Aguilar appears to be a young man in the film. At most he is 50 years old based on appearance and if you actually think he’s even 40 then you’re being unrealistic because he looks and moves very well for a middle aged man. But let’s just say he’s 50 because Callum is 30 years older than his childhood counterpart at the beginning of the film, and that kid is at least 10. So while Callum and Aguilar don’t have to be the same age, it’s safe to assume that they’re pretty close in age considering both are played by the same actor and the parallels drawn between them are not at all subtle. Yet in the film there are no signs that Aguilar has a kid. He is clearly in love with a female assassin who dies in front of him towards the film’s end for starters. No this does not at all mean that he couldn’t have a kid running around by some other woman or even by her that they have left to be raised somewhere else. That’s completely possible regardless of how unlikely. But based on the way the film is edited, it’s almost impossible that Aguilar conceived a child after the events of his memories shown in the film. Or at least that’s how I saw it.
The film starts in Andalucía, Spain in 1492. Aguilar’s role in the film ends with him apparently about to die handing the piece of Eden to Christopher Columbus before he’s gone off to the Americas. History tells us that Columbus sailed to the Americas for the first time from Palos de la Frontera which is part of greater Andalucía in 1492. The sequence right before Aguilar meets with Columbus takes place in Granada, also part of greater Andalucía, where he is struck with what appears to be a mortal wound from a crossbow as he falls through the air with a trademark Assassin’s Creed leap of faith, and lands in water. While not shown on screen, it is assumed that Aguilar somehow swims to safety and sneaks onto Columbus’ boat. So unless we assume either Aguilar had a kid prior to the events of the movie, or conceived a child with the female assassin, (who ended up dying from a crossbow wound, so how is that possible?) he doesn’t have any direct descendants. I’m of course assuming that some woman in 1492 Spain didn’t find his still warm body, milk his corpse for semen, and inseminate herself. I think it’s safe to say that didn’t happen in this particular Ubisoft franchise.
I am prepared to accept one of two outcomes to get around this problem of Aguilar having a child. He very well could have knocked up the female assassin and she could have lived through that also fatal wound after some hours of being unconscious, assuming she didn’t bleed to death. It’s also possible the Templars found her and nursed her back to health; again assuming she didn’t actually die on screen like it seemed she had. But at this time we have no way of proving that so let’s instead consider the possibility that Aguilar may have sired a child before the events of the film. This is completely possible, but it in no way justifies how it is that Callum would have been able to channel those particular memories in the Animus.
It’s never really discussed in the game, but the idea is supposed to be that people inherit the memories of their parents through their genetics. Those memories give them the instinctual desire and ability to do certain things. In the case of the film, the scientist who built the Animus argues that the children of assassin’s are violent as proof that violent behavior has been passed on from their ancestors. That’s all well and good, but what that means is that people would/should only be able to inherit the memories of their parents and ancestors that took place before the final transfer of DNA from parent to child. Now in the case of the mother, that means that by loosely defining “transfer of DNA” one could argue that a child could inherit the memories of their mother all the way to the end of breast feeding, of course arguing that drinking breast milk from a mother could result in a permanent transfer of DNA that would stay with the child. I’ll accept that argument for the purposes of science fiction. But again, all of the playable assassins in the franchise have been men with the exception of Aveline de Grandpré, Shao Jun, and Evie Frye. The transfer of DNA (memories) would logically be complete at the moment of conception except in extreme cases such as a blood transfusion or organ transplant from father to son. Yes there are some other impractical things that could happen, but again let’s assume nothing weird like that happened in this particular franchise. So now the question must be asked: How is it possible for progeny to see the memories of male ancestors that occurred past the time of conception?
Now technically this problem has only come up three times in the entire franchise. Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, Edward Kenway, and Aguilar de Nerha. Altaïr is shown in old age in Revelations, having already been married and raised his children to also go on to be assassins. But these memories are not shown through the Animus. Instead they’re shown through an ancient relic from the first civilization that allows people to store their memories and have other people experience them in the future. Ezio finds and uses these in order to see the older memories from Altaïr’s life. In turn Desmond experiences these moments in Altaïr’s later life by experiencing them through the Animus as memories of Ezio. So as far as Altaïr is concerned there is no issue of why his memories post child conception are passed on.
Edward Kenway has one or both of his children going into the events of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but because of the way it’s presented I think it’s acceptable to say his son was born after the events of the game. That means while the particular memory of Edward sailing with his kids can’t have been transferred to the next generation, (all the way down to Desmond from Edward) it can still have gotten to Desmond as a memory of Haytham Kenway, down to his eventual son Connor and so on. But none of that actually even matters because by Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Ubisoft had changed the rules of the Animus to no longer be limited to bloodline memories. Any person can now experience another person’s memories through a simple DNA sample. Thus making this a non-issue for any Assassin’s featured in games that take place post ACIII (2012), to a point. Or more specifically any games that take place where the modern era is post Desmond Miles because after he dies, all memories/stories take place through DNA samples instead of by direct descendants of the assassin in question. The issue is still there in the case of channeling genetic memories of a person through the DNA of one of their descendants, but in the event that you can get the DNA of the actual person you want to channel, you can experience their memories no problem.
That just leaves us the problem of Aguilar. Now, because the timeline between the games and movie is screwed up, some of these conclusions may be debatable, especially since I’m placing the world of the film into the same world and ruleset of the games which may not even be appropriate. The modern day part of the movie takes place in 2016. Desmond Miles, the last shown genetic descendant Animus user before Callum Lynch, died in 2012. Meaning that if we assume it hasn’t been more than four years between the modern day events of ACIII and ACIV, then there is no reason to still need direct descendants to see the memories of a person from the past as long as someone can acquire some DNA. Meaning that unless we say that they couldn’t find any other DNA of Aguilar, other than through Callum Lynch, that there was no need to trace his memories through a direct descendant. Yet the movie claims there is. So if that is the case and we assume as I postulated earlier, that Aguilar did not have any children after the events that take place in the film, then how is it possible that the memories shown of him made it to Callum Lynch?
Honestly I can’t answer the question. It either comes down to bad editing, meaning the film misrepresented the amount of time between Aguilar getting the piece of Eden and giving it to Christopher Columbus. Bad cinematography, meaning that the state of his health when he escaped the Templars and ultimately met Christopher Columbus wasn’t nearly as bad as it seemed when I watched the film. Or just plain bad writing, meaning the writers didn’t recognize these holes in the plot and just flat out missed them. Based on Ubisoft’s tack record with the games bad writing, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched. But I’ll give credit where credit is due and admit that for all the problems with the plot in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, they have actually been really good about addressing and justifying any holes or paradoxes when it comes to the timeline in the games. In fact, this is the first time since the series began that I just can’t think of any legitimate work around, other than of course the aforementioned necrophilial conception. This leads me to believe that it really does just come down to bad film making and that Aguilar didn’t actually die soon after meeting Christopher Columbus. There’s absolutely no legitimate evidence other than fan wikis to back this up. It seems like just a blatantly unjustifiable and unfixable plot hole.
For those of you who have played the games and watched the movie, I’m curious to know your thoughts on this subject. Did you see Aguilar as dying after meeting Columbus as well? Did he get injured by an arrow/bolt during his final leap of faith? What did you think of the movie in general?