‘Ender’s Game’ (based on the popular 1985 book of the same name by Orson Scott Card) is an imperfect, but engaging, morality-based science fiction film aimed at a young-adult audience.
The migration of ‘Ender’s Game’ from gazillion-selling book to big-screen adventure might be a separate tale in itself. ‘Ender’s Game’ first began as a short-story by Card in 1977, and was, eventually, elaborated into the award-winning 1985 edition, followed by several sequels. Although the book has not always been uniformly critically supported, ‘Ender’s Game’ continues to be popular among readers and has even been placed on the U.S. Marine Corps’ Professional Reading List for its discussion of ‘training methodology, leadership, and ethics.’ Although author Card, himself, had previously called the book ‘unfilmable,’ director Gavin Hood was finally able to bring the story of the boy who-would-save-‘Earth’ to theaters.
As in many other sci-fi films, Earth has been attacked by aliens. The surprise attack of formidable strength happened 50 years prior, resulting in drawn-out battles. Although now seemingly devoid of threat from the alien, bug-like creatures (‘The Formics’), Earth still anticipates the potential for their ‘enemies’ return, and now trains the best, most intelligent, young minds (those who can assimilate vast mountains of data and respond appropriately and accurately in negating the threat) in a military-like fashion. The young military battle prodigy, Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield of ‘Hugo’), was reportedly ‘born’ for the task of ending the conflict with the Formics. (Although not fully explained in the movie, the book clarifies that Ender is the ‘approved’ third-child in a population-controlled future, as his two other highly-intelligent, older siblings were promising, but could not be deemed fit, for Battle School.) Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) has great faith in Ender’s abilities, guiding and manipulating him both on-and-off the scene, and quickly pushes him through the ranks of mind games, training, and survival against both himself and other young recruits. Graff constantly tests if Ender is truly the ‘chosen one’ to take on the impending alien threat.
‘Ender’s Game’ is sort of a mashup of the ‘against the system/chosen one’ of ‘The Matrix’ with the ‘children versus children’ aspect of ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘The Hunger Games.’ Interestingly, the film moves quickly through Ender’s training levels in Battle School, culminating in some strategic, rather fascinating zero-gravity battles. However, at times, some of the technology of the film seems dated, or more budget-limited, than general audiences might expect in a cinematic spectacular, but the audience still feels very drawn to Butterfield’s performance as the clear-eyed Ender. Butterfield plays the young wunderkind appealingly. Even though Ender’s unmatched skill set seems otherworldly, the film repeatedly brings forth Ender’s personal battle in keeping his violent streak in check with his empathetic talents. Further, the use of psychologist Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) to reportedly point out the moral and emotional toll of having young children fight adult battles in the name of salvation, helps elevate ‘Ender’s Game’ above other romance-focused, young-adult film fodder.
Further, Harrison Ford (and his imposing, gravelly tones) gives one of his better recent performances, however, the emotionally confined character of Colonel Graff appears very short-sighted (and uninterested) in the long-term effects of militarizing children. Director Hood (who also wrote the screenplay) has done a reasonably good job in adapting the moral complexity of the novel into film for the uninitiated to the Ender universe, although his tendency, seemingly, is to soften some of Ender’s aggression in the movie versus his more violent outcomes in the original book. ‘Ender’s Game’ is rated 4 - of 5 stars (‘recommended’).
‘Ender’s Game’ is rated PG-13 for ‘some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.’
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