In 1492, when you-know-who sailed the ocean blue, the Order of the Knights Templar met in secret in Inquisition-era Spain to scheme over how to reclaim the Apple of Eden, a mystical grooved-metal sphere that's part Rubik's Cube-style puzzle and part Pandora's box. They seek the Apple to reverse its charm and purge the human race of its capacity for sin -- and, likewise, free will -- but another group meeting in secret has something to say about that. The Assassins, a guild of cloaked and tattooed nihilists championing free will (for good and ill) have sworn a blood oath to keep the Apple out of the Knights Templar's clutches, and they've got lots of knives tucked into their scabbards and gauntlets to show that they mean business. Five centuries later, in a dusty trailer park in Baja California, preteen Cal Lynch (Angus Brown) discovers that his mother (Essie Davis) has been bled to death at their kitchen table, a Spanish-style silver charm threaded on a chain between her cold fingers. Thirty years later -- and hold on, because this isn't the last of this movie's chronological jumps -- Cal (played as an adult by Michael Fassbender) is an inmate on death row. He knows plenty now about the human capacity for violence, but so does a scientist (Marion Cotillard) operating out of a sleek concrete facility at an undisclosed location. After faking his execution, she shanghaies him back to her lair and presents him with his new calling: He must travel back to 1492 via a gigantic claw rig and a device clamped into the nape of his neck, which will allow him, Matrix-style, to inhabit the body of an ancestor of his who was an Assassin. During this experience, he works with a similarly sworn compatriot (Ariane Labed) as they stab their way through crowds of Knights Templar henchmen in defense of the Apple. He must do this "to pioneer new ways to eradicate violence," as Cotillard's character says with a straight face. Fannish moviegoers may feel a great disturbance in the Force -- or just déjà vu -- at the ingredients of Assassin's Creed's first act, since this film opens exactly the same way that Rogue One does: sweep a high-flying camera across a vista or two, follow a child's flight from peril after the death of a parent, flash-forward to the prison where they've ended up as an adult, then spring them free and give them a heroic mission. But this movie is quick where other geek epics are dead. Director Justin Kurzel, whose previous collaboration with leading man Fassbender was a critically acclaimed adaptation of Macbeth (2015), teams up again with cinematographer Adam Arkapaw to quote, with respect, the span of Ridley Scott's oeuvre, from the austere chiaroscuro of his Apple Macintosh commercial to the dust and leather and bronze of Gladiator. Kurzel and Co. (including Fassbender, who is credited here as a producer) labored to make a "video-game movie" that's beautiful, and it's only a bit of a stretch to describe its vistas and pacing and murmuring score (by the director's brother, Jed Kurzel) as Kubrickian. Speaking of Kubrick, it's apples and oranges to compare A Clockwork Orange's masterful debate about free will vs. violence with the Apple of Eden, yet this film's philosophical underpinnings -- coming down squarely on the side of free will, to be sure, with its Futurist veneration of violence as one of Homo sapiens' intangible cultural treasures -- give its many (but never too many) action scenes a similar cerebral richness. And if these morally searching questions form the soul of Assassin's Creed, then Michael Fassbender is its infinitely charismatic heart. He is up to all of his usual tricks here, combining the magnetism and emotional acuity of his dramatic appearances (think Shame or 12 Years a Slave) with the physical dynamism of a to-the-manner-born action hero. (He is "foxy" by every entry in the dictionary, sly and quick and lickable.) Assassin's Creed isn't Macbeth, to be sure. But it's every inch the best version of what it could be. This is how a geek movie should be done.