‘Ender’s Game’ Review
The kids today and their video games! Well, if Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s beloved sci-fi novel, ‘Ender’s Game,’ is any indicator, the fragging youngsters of today may become the saviors of tomorrow. Whether they want to or not.
Asa Butterfield, whose eyes have grown even wider since ‘Hugo,’ is Ender Wiggen – a little older than he is in the book, but still the incipient genius with a knack for strategy and abstract thought. Within him is a great streak of sympathy, but also a fiery temper that is stoked by bullies. What’s on him is a “tracker,” a monitoring device that sees and hears what he sees and hears. We first meet Ender on the day it is to come out (in the future they’ve invented swift interplanetary travel, but don’t seem to know about Novocaine), and while Ender may think he’s bombed out of his “test,” his overseers (Harrison Ford and Viola Davis) believe that he is “the one.”
He’s soon plucked from his home and brought to Space Hogwarts. You see, it’s the future, and humanity is still smarting from an attack by a 50-year-old attack by the Formics – unseen, unknown and seemingly unprovoked insectoids in crazy-looking ships. If not for the brave (but vague) actions of Earth’s hero Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), we’d all be speaking bug. (Actually, the bugs don’t speak, which is important, especially when you see the second of Card’s ‘Ender’ books is called ‘Speaker of the Dead,’ but we’re getting to that.)
Earth lives in fear of a Formic retaliation, and they need kids (for some reason) to be the new leaders of the fleet. Next thing you know Ender is in Battle School, which is like ‘Full Metal Jacket’ if cadets spent most of their time playing Laser Quidditch.
Ender and his chums Hermoine and Ron, um, excuse me, Petra and Bean (gee, did J.K. Rowling read this book?) train to become the best battlers ever. Harrison Ford does a lot of watching in awe. Then Viola Davis yells at him for crushing the boy’s humanity. Then Harrison Ford says, “you WANT me on that wall! You NEED me on that wall!”
After a lot of gabbing and batting around half-baked political theories, Ender ends up conducting a giant simulation at Command School. His Fuhrer-esque gestures hammer home that maybe these extreme measures aren’t the right way to go about protecting humanity. Then Ender gets his rude awakening, which, if he looked at the poster of the movie (that bluntly states, “This is no game”), it really wouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
‘Ender’s Game’ isn’t a terrific movie, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse. In a way, it sticks to its guns and remains true to the book. Alas, this also means that not a whole heck of a lot happens, and what does happen maybe feels a tad out of date. The revelations aren’t that revelatory, the “world building” isn’t very thorough and, other than Ender, the characters are all cardboard. But the battle school sequences are tremendous and Butterfield’s performance is extraordinary. ‘Ender’s Game’ has more to offer than, say, ‘Tron Legacy,’ but its grand statement on how warriors are made comes out a little muddled. It is neither a bad nor a boring movie, but there are far richer games out there to play.
‘Ender’s Game’ opens in theaters on November 1.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.