Ender’s Game, based on the 1985 science-fiction novel by Orson Scott Card, bookends this year’s fantastic run of science-fiction films, which included Gravity, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Elysium. In what the studio hopes is the first film of a new franchise, Ender’s Game excels at stunning visuals, fantastic acting performances, and interesting plot twists. However, a few plot holes made me not enjoy the film as much as I probably could have. With that said, Ender’s Game is certainly entertaining and the open ending left me wanting more. In fact, based upon where this movie was heading in its final act, the franchise could pull a chapter from Nolan’s Dark Knight series and have the second film be the best. If Ender’s Game is just “pretty good”, I think the sequel has the potential to be “great”!
In the future, Earth is severely overcrowded; so much so, each family is only allowed two children (unless they pay for a third). An alien race, known as the Formics, is also facing overcrowding on their planet so they decide to attack Earth for its natural resources (specifically water). The people on Earth are able to push the Formics back to their home planet, but not before terrible damage and casualties are incurred. In order to ensure Earth is prepared for another Formic attack, the countries of the world ban together to create a powerful military known as the International Fleet. To support the Fleet, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) is given the responsibility of leading a program that gathers the most intelligent children on Earth to train them for military command. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one of those children.
Ender is the “third” child in his family. Because his brother and sister were disqualified from command school, Ender is the family’s last hope for achieving greatness. Although Ender is socially awkward, and at times too smart for his own good, his strategic prowess catches the attention of Col. Graff and Maj. Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis). With Col. Graff’s support, Ender quickly rises through the ranks of the command training program (think the arena training in The Hunger Games). At first, Ender struggles with bullies who believe he doesn’t deserve all of the attention from Col. Graff. However, he quickly finds a group of his own after he befriends, and ultimately leads, a group of outcasts. As his group excels, however, Ender begins to question the morality of the Fleet’s mission, especially in regards to complete and total destruction of the enemy. Because he is a consummate strategist, Ender starts wondering, “Is there a better way to go about ensuring the safety of Earth?”
Of course, the premise of Ender’s Game is cut from the same cloth as other adventure movies with a “chosen one” character, such as Harry Potter. However, instead of “the chosen one” being a leader in the quest for good, in this film it may actually be a position that has immoral implications. There is no cut or dry “right” answer; it is up for interpretation. Since seeing the film, I battled with myself over the decisions characters make in the final act. This is a nice change from what I am used to seeing in other movies from this genre.
The main issue I have with the premise of this film, and something that makes writing this review a little difficult, is that it wasn’t made entirely clear why children were picked to command the military. I realize that the candidates picked for the program were extremely intelligent, but was the main draw that children are more malleable? Are these child geniuses actually more intelligent than any of the adults? I would have liked to see a scene where Ender goes up against Colonel Graff and displays why he is better in a leadership position than an adult; in many scenes, it seems Graff is just as equipped to handle combat as Ender. Additionally, will the children outrank the adults in the military command structure? What happens when they grow up? Is this program just a way to start training leaders while they are young? Maybe I’m thinking too much into it, but it’s hard to completely enjoy a movie when you are confused by the premise.
Regardless of my issues with the storyline, the acting in Ender’s Game is top-notch. Besides Moises Arias (who is always over-the-top), there are no weak links. Because Ender is in basically every scene, the film rests mainly on the shoulders of Asa Butterfield. Thankfully, Butterfield does not disappoint. He is totally believable as an intelligent, yet awkward kid with a little edge. At no point in the film did Butterfield look out of his element, nor did his performance feel heavy-handed. A lot of times, coming-of-age films’ lead actors fail to take command of the screen (cough Mortal Instruments cough), however Butterfield always comes off as confident and competent. Not to mention, his American accent is so good, it’s impossible to tell he is British.
Harrison Ford and Viola Davis were also great (as usual) in their supporting roles. Whereas Ford’s character was more of a hard-line warmonger, Davis’ character is the other side of the coin. She seems to be facing a moral dilemma much like Ender; the difficult decisions she constantly has to make during the cadets’ training wears on her, which Davis expertly shows throughout every scene. Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld also give good performances, although unfortunately their roles don’t add much to the movie except providing young female characters. On that note, it was also unfortunate that an actor as talented as Ben Kingsley, was underused in a role that didn’t add much to the overall plot. Maybe his character was a bigger force in the books, but in the movie – not so much.
Due to the controversy over anti-gay statements made by Orson Scott Card it will be interesting to see how the film fairs at the box office this weekend. Although I wouldn’t suggest rushing out to theaters to see it, Ender’s Game is better than I expected; the visuals are fantastic, the acting is first-rate, and it is a refreshing take on the “chosen one” concept . Hopefully a sequel will take Ender to an even more exciting level, joining the league of movie franchises whose second films are better than the first.
My Review: C+/B-