Without the benefit of reading the book, Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card before seeing the movie, I didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, the trailers and press photos did not impress me in the least and it feels like Summit Entertainment has been promoting this film forever. So imagine my surprise when it turned out to be good – really good.
In what appeared to be a “children’s” movie, turned out to be something worthwhile for the whole family. In fact, at the screening I attended, I don’t remember seeing any kids there, but the place was packed completely full of sci-fi fan adults, who seemed to have liked it as much as I did. It doesn’t hurt that the film has the star power of Harrison Ford, Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley. More importantly, Asa Butterfield (Ender) holds the whole thing together with his incredibly fine acting. The movie would have fallen apart with a lesser actor.
The basic plotline made my eyes roll at the start of the movie and if you can get over that, you’ll enjoy the movie. Set sometime in the near future, Earth was (or will be if you prefer) attacked by the alien race known as the Formics, a stunt that the world was not prepared for. So, the International Fleet begins preparing children for the next battle, if it comes to that. Children are recruited because they are so good at video games. Since all the training takes place in a virtual world, it will be the children that will save us. Trust me, it gets better.
Ender Wiggin is the third sibling in his family. In the future, families have a quota of two children unless they receive special permission. Ender’s mother assures him that he was wanted, but because of this family dynamic, Ender is already an outcast of sorts amongst his schoolmates. He is a shy boy with a combination of characteristics of his two older siblings. He is caring and thoughtful like his sister Valentine and he is also full of rage like his brother Peter. It is this combination that makes him a stand out. He is bullied in school, but he is so brilliant that he is yanked out of “earth school” and sent into space. There he is trained by Colonel Graff (Ford), Major Gwen Anderson (Davis) and later Mazer Rackham (Kingsley) through a series of war games. (It is so nice to see Harrison Ford in a role where he isn’t playing a grumpy old man. He’s stern, but he has a twinkle in his eye reminiscent of his days as Han Solo.) The fate of the world is literally in Ender’s hands.
What makes this film so special, besides the fine acting, the incredible scenery and special effects, is the thought-provoking messages throughout the film. It is one of the best examples of true leadership I have ever seen in the movie. Ender is smart, but not a smart aleck. He is not only willing to listen to others, but also insists on it. He knows that in order to succeed, the group needs to operate as a team but also be able to serve under one leader. (Business owners take note. This is a great teaching tool for your managerial staff members.)
Though the cast is mainly a core of young people, there are themes that are very adult such as the realities of war, the fine line between pushing others to the edge and pushing them beyond their abilities, and knowing how to respect someone for their abilities even if you don’t like them personally. Ender goes through a lot of character building, but so do the adults, which is a reminder to parents that sometimes our kids can teach us something.