Directed by: Gavin Hood
Based on the Nebula and the Hugo Award winning novel by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game is a military science fiction novel that takes place after the Earth was attacked by a hostile race of bug-like creatures called the Formics. Humankind was nearly wiped out by the beasties, and would have been save for the heroics of a legendary Fleet Commander, Colonel Mazer Rackham (Kingsley). According to legend (and file film footage) the entirety of humanity would have been lost, save for his final, heroic action against the invaders. As a result of both the invasion, as well as the near defeat, the Earth leaders determined that the old ways of strategy and tactics would simply not suffice as a defense in a return engagement, so they decided to train young boys and girls in developing new battle tactics based mostly on videogames. In preparation for the next attack, the highly esteemed Colonel Hyrum Graff (Ford) and the International Military are training only the best young minds to find the future Mazer.
After 50 years of preparation, Graff happens across Ender Wiggin (Butterfield), a shy but strategically brilliant young boy, who is recruited to join the elite fighting forces. From the moment he arrives at Battle School, Ender quickly and easily masters increasingly difficult challenges and simulations, and quickly rising through the ranks of his peers. He distinguishes himself in various disciplines and winds up winning respect of both his fellow students as well as his superior officers. Ender is soon ordained by Graff as the military’s next great hope, resulting in his promotion to Command School. Once there, he comes under the direct training of Mazer Rackham himself in order to lead his fellow young soldiers into an epic battle that will determine the future of Earth and save the human race.
The film essentially follows the story laid out in the book (with appropriate tweaking for the advancement of video gaming technology). In spite of Ender’s meek continence, he has a very sharp strategic mind and often when confronted by bullies (who inevitably seek to push him around), will explode in a paroxysm of über-violence that seriously incapacitates his attacker as well as serving as a very visual deterrent to others seeking to “get even” with him. This makes him something of a cold individual who is emotionally distant from virtually everyone but his sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin) and Petra Arkanian (Hailee Steinfeld), a classmate.
While the film stands up quite well, we have to admit that certain aspects of the story mirror events in Robert Heinlein’s 1959 Si-Fi novel, Starship Troopers (about an alien bug invasion of the Earth, and Mankind’s subsequent reaction via military preparation and retaliation). Still, the comparisons are superficial and this story is its own, and quite entertaining as well. In fact our only real complaint is that the film should have come out in 3D as the subject matter and the wicked-cool space battles totally warranted it.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.