Two stars

Based on a video game series, Assassin’s Creed is a dour time-travelling fantasy that swiftly somersaults into absurdity and incomprehension.

We share the bewilderment of the lead character when he mumbles, “What the hell is going on?”

If the three screenwriters have the answer, they don’t let on for almost two hours of special effects-laden hack and slash, that ebbs and flows between present day Madrid and 1492 Andalucia.

Director Justin Kurzel, who recently helmed attractive leads Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in his tour-de-force reimaging of Macbeth, is powerless to make sense of the digitally augmented muddle.

Battle sequences and protracted chases on foot, including daredevil leaps captured in slow motion, are stylishly staged to the relentless drum beat of composer Jed Kurzel’s score.

For fans of interactive media, it’s as grim and bloody as the 12A certificate will allow.

Unfortunately, like so many adaptations of video games, the film lacks the vicarious thrill of physically controlling a character and assuming personal responsibility for their fate.

Voyeurism has rarely been so tiresome.

A few hours after he is executed by lethal injection, Callum Lynch (Fassbender) wakes in a facility owned by biotechnology company Abstergo Industries, a front for the power-hungry Templar Order under the control of president Ellen Kaye (Charlotte Rampling).

The convicted criminal learns he is the last in a long bloodline of valiant protectors - the Assassins - who have been at war with the Templars. The company’s Machiavellian CEO, Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), is searching for an ancient artefact called the Apple of Eden, which was hidden by Callum’s 15th-century Spanish relative, Aguilar de Nerha. Using a device called the Animus, Rikkin and his scientist daughter Sofia (Cotillard) access genetic memories concealed in Callum’s DNA to locate the missing artefact.

“What you’re about to see, hear and feel are the memories of your ancestor who’s been dead for 500 years,” whispers Sofia.

Vivid snapshots of the past flash before Callum’s eyes and he relives each punch and stab as if he were Aguilar, fighting alongside fellow Assassin Maria (Ariane Labed).

Ricocheting back and forth in time, Callum realises he holds the power to his blood-spattered destiny. Assassin’s Creed employs earthy and metallic colour palettes to create an immediate visual distinction between the two timeframes.

Fassbender, credited as one of the film’s producers, and Cotillard could deliver their lines in their sleep while Irons isn’t even afforded an opportunity to chew scenery. The plot makes little sense and there’s no effort on the part of the script to tether the historical mumbo jumbo to a reality that non-game players can understand.

Kurzel delivers the required big budget spectacle and neatly sets up further instalments, but if this opening salvo is a signal of intent, it’s game over already for Callum and his kin.

Director: Justin Kurzel Running time: 115 mins