What, exactly, is going on in the new Assassin's Creed trailer?
Sure, it looks great. The strength of the video game adaptation, based on this new sneak peek, comes from its visuals, and there are multiple shots in the trailer that catch the eye, whether it's the sight of hooded figures running and jumping over rooftops of an ancient city, or Michael Fassbender strapped into a bed in a creepily sterile, all-white medical center. Visually, the trailer pops, with the contrast between scenes - not just the coldness of the contemporary medical center and prison scenes and the Earth tones of the ancient city, but also the muted uncanny valley surreality of the world where Michael K. Williams gets to explain what's going on - making it easy to follow even for those not paying too much attention.
The problem comes when you listen to the dialogue. It's not that the dialogue in the trailer is particularly bad, although it's certainly awkwardly expositional in an attempt to explain the high concept to viewers in a speedy way. Instead, the trouble comes from the high concept itself, and how oddly empty it feels.
The basic idea behind the movie - that Fassbender's character, like the playable characters in the games, can access memories of his ancestors via a Macguffin called the Animus - is, in itself, sound enough, and sketched out in the trailer with enough speed to be roughly understandable. But everything outside that idea comes across as generic to the point of meaninglessness: Who are the shadowy bad guys? What is Jeremy Irons doing, besides being English and surly? What does it mean that Fassbender's character is "destined for great things," when all we see him doing is running and fighting?
In other words, what is actually going on in the trailer?
The prospect of adapting video games to movies has been, to be polite, problematic in the past - from Super Mario Bros. to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time or The Angry Birds Movie, the great multiplex in the sky has been littered with attempts at translating the gaming experience into a viewing experience with less than impressive results. This came to mind watching the Assassin's Creed trailer not out of a "Welp, another failure" impulse, but instead wondering if the lack of clarity about the story in the trailer is a feature, not a bug, of the entire video game movie genre, rather than the failing of this particular movie.
After all, video games by their very nature are unfinished stories; it's playing the game that closes the loop, depending on the input of the audience. What's actually present in the core material, therefore, are concepts and ideas that demand the audience's participation. Any movie - or book, or comic - adaptation, then, is faced with a choice: close the loop for the audience, potentially alienating the core fan base (which has its own read on things), or leave things as open and undefined as possible … and have a movie that seems as weightless and nondescript as the Assassin's Creed trailer makes it appear.
None of which is to say that the finished movie will be as malleable as this trailer appears, or, even if it is, that it won't be a huge success; the Transformers movies have repeatedly proven the appeal of spectacle over narrative logic to any doubters by this point. But as things stand, the trailer for Assassin's Creed doesn't really seem to make any sense from a story standpoint - and that could actually be the point.