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“We don’t want this to be a superhero film; we want it to be a film that embraces what it is to be human,” director Justin Kurzel said from the set of his adaptation of Assassin’s Creed. Now, for most video game adaptations or huge tentpole films in general, such a comment would sound too good to be true–but this is coming from the director Snowtown Murders and last year’s Macbeth. Video game adaptations often don’t attract filmmakers of Kurzel’s caliber (although there’s another rare exception this year). He went from making a visceral and visually intoxicating William Shakespeare adaptation, which also starred Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, to bringing Ubisoft’s dense world to theaters.

Below, read our Assassin’s Creed set visit.

Back in September, I had the opportunity to visit the set of Assassin’s Creed, based on the video game franchise that started in 2007. By 2014, the franchise had sold over 73 million physical and digital copies, making it Ubisoft’s most successful property. Fassbender isn’t playing one of the series’ more famous characters, like Altair or Ezio; he’s playing Callum Lynch. On day 40 out of an 80-day shoot at Pinewood Studios, Lynch was ambushed by a group of guards, and a group of us in attendance that day got to witness it in one long, smooth take.

Before Lynch brutally, yet gracefully, takes out a few security guards in the film, he was given a second chance. The character is a Texas death row inmate. After receiving a lethal injection, he’s brought back to life by Abstergo Industries, run by Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter, Sofia (Marion Cotillard), who’s a scientist. She introduces Lynch to his new life, the life of an Assassin. Through a process called regression, the former drifter will relive the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar, a long-haired, face-tatted Assassin. During the Spanish Inquisition in 1491, Aguilar is protecting an artifact that Alan Rikkin, whose motive in the film is initially unknown, would like to get his hands on. There’s more to the story than that–including the Assassins, also known as Assassin Brotherhood, fight against The Templar, a society against free will–but that’s the basic gist of Assassin’s Creed.

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Whenever any of the cast or crew described the story or the world of the film, it sounded like an obstacle communicating it all with just one film, a hurdle actor/producer Michael Fassbender was well aware of during the development process. “The script is something we’ve always been working on, but we got to a place earlier this year where we felt we had a structure, and we had something that was simplified,” Fassbender told us. “Because, as you all know, this is a very dense world, and trying to bring it to a cinematic experience is different. We tried to simplify as best we could and get the important aspects of the game across. There’s a lot of for an audience to take on board. So to find a format where we could get these things across and keep it in a cinematic and dramatic experience, that was the challenge.” Regarding how faithful the film is to the popular video game series, the Assassin’s Creed star said they “want to respect the game and the elements to it,” but that they “wanted to come up with our own thing.”

By this point in production, Fassbender had been attached to Assassin’s Creed for over three years. When asked what finally made the project come together, he said with a laugh: “We had a start date.” In the film, Fassbender plays Lynch and Aguilar. The difference between the two? “Well, one doesn’t say a lot and the other does,” the actor responded, half-jokingly. “You know, basically in this story, you have somebody who doesn’t realize where he’s coming from. He doesn’t have a lineage he can sort of feel a belonging to. That’s our modern-day protagonist, Cal. He doesn’t realize he’s an assassin; he’s a bit of a lost soul. He’s always been drifting in and out of correctional facilities. Then, of course, Aguilar is very much somebody that belongs to the Creed. He has a cause; he’s sort of been following that cause. He belongs to it. So they’re the two different standpoints of the character, and hopefully Aguilar will teach Cal, from the regressions, that he does belong to something. That’s the main difference between the two characters.”

Around 65% of the story takes place in present day. From a structural and visual standpoint, making the two time periods feel of a piece was a challenge. “That’s been the most tricky thing,” Kurzel said. “They both are very, very distinct, especially in the game. You do probably spend more time in the past in the game. The present settings are kind of transient settings pieces to get you into the past. In terms of setting up the film, we do spend probably, predominantly, a little bit more time in the present, setting up the lead character in Cal, and getting the audience to know him and understand him. We’re continuously just trying to find ways in which there’s a bridge between those two worlds. At the same time, there’s something very exciting about going between two different palettes. The past feels very, like a Caravaggio painting. It’s very rich and very seductive, like the game. The light in the game is just extraordinary. There’s a romance to the history that we didn’t want to lose, contrasted with this very sophisticated, architectural, heavily designed world with modern day templates.”

The scenes set during the Spanish Inquisition were shot in Malta. At the end of the set visit, we were shown over 50 photos from that portion of the film, and the grimy but beautiful aesthetic unquestionably came from the mind behind last year’s impressionistic and visually stunning Macbeth. These photos also prominently featured Ariane Labed (The Lobster), playing a fellow Assassin. We didn’t learn a great deal about her character, Maria, but she left an impression with her fierce presence. Another pivotal supporting character is Moosa, a patient played by Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire). Moosa’s ancestor, Baptiste, relies more on “trickery and magic and voodoo” than hand-to-hand combat, Williams told us.

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