In a surprise morning announcement, “Assassin’s Creed” is returning to the live action format.
Netflix announced Tuesday that it will produce an all new live action “Assassin’s Creed” series. No new details were given, but the new series will be part of a much larger partnership between Netflix and “Assassin’s Creed” publisher Ubisoft that will see the release of additional live action and animated series and movies.
The battle between assassins and templars has played out in live action multiple times, though none with great quality or staying power. “Assassin’s Creed: Lineage,” a series of shorts combined into a movie, released in 2009, ahead of the launch of “Assassin’s Creed II.” The episodes served as a prequel to the story of Ezio Auditore and his family, who would ultimately die, propelling him into the world of assassins. The short films used a new type of technology, Hybride Technology, that helped to create CG sets around the actors. The quality wasn’t that great, and the shorts were ultimately forgotten, as they served as nothing more than promotional material for the game.
Ubisoft decided to go all-in on live action with “Assassin’s Creed,” released in 2016. It had all of the makings of a quality endeavor. Unlike other video game adaptations, such as “Resident Evil,” that completely ditched the plot of the games and went into their own direction, Ubisoft kept a tight focus on the movie, ensuring that it not only complied with the rules of the series, but would also fit within the canon. The movie referenced events that happened in previous games, and has since been referenced in subsequent releases.
Production hired Justin Kurzel as director, who was coming off a very impressive adaptation of “Macbeth,” that was praised for its imagery and strong direction, as well as performances from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Both stars would partner with Kurzel again for “Assassin’s Creed,” with the former taking on the lead role of assassin Aguilar and modern day protagonist Cal Lynch. Everything looked like it would come together to be the first real quality video game adaptation.
And then the movie hit. The problem with “Assassin’s Creed” was that it tried to please both fans of the series, and those who had never heard of the game before. The movie spent so much time explaining the rules of the Animus and the assassins and templars that it got bogged down in heavy exposition. On the other side, the movie introduced characters and referenced events that played a major role in the film that no one would have known about, if they hadn’t played the games previously. It created a hackneyed experience that pleased no one — and relegated the historical action, which the series is known for, to supporting elements.
Hopefully, Ubisoft has learned its lesson in regards to producing an adaptation for everyone. The fact that this will be a series, rather than a movie, should give producers more time to flesh out the world, which could explain all of the rules and aspects of the universe, while still leaving plenty of time for action and plot development that fans of the series have come to enjoy.
But Ubisoft really should consider severing the ties between the games and the live action adaptations. Admittedly, it is a nice aspiration — one where the universe can be expanded upon in numerous ways that offer great storytelling opportunities. But too often, those elements are either completely ignored by mainline entries, thus alienating fans who seek out every bit of extended universe content, or they become required information in order to enjoy the mainline entry. It’s a delicate tight rope to balance.
Under 343 Industries, the “Halo” franchise has struggled to find that balance. Both “Halo 4” and “Halo 5: Guardians” required reading certain books and extended universe material in order to truly understand what was happening on screen. This led to widespread frustration, as characters and villains appeared in the main games, who were never mentioned before, and required additional reading in order to understand their actions.
On the flipside, many became frustrated early with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and how “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” would reference the movies constantly, but would never receive the same in return from the movies. That is the problem you run into when trying to flesh out worlds with so much additional content.
Let’s just hope Ubisoft and Netflix focus primarily on providing an entertaining series before trying to determine whether it should be crammed into more than a decade’s worth of canon or not.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.