2013, PG-13, 114 mins.
2013, PG-13, 114 mins.
Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin / Hailee Steinfeld as Petra Arkanian / Harrison Ford as Colonel Hyrum Graff / Abigail Breslin as Valentine Wiggin / Aramis Knight as Bean / Moisés Arias as Bonzo / Jimmy "Jax" Pinchak as Peter Wiggin / Viola Davis as Major Gwen Anderson / Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham / Suraj Partha as Alai / Khlylin Rhambo as Dink Meeker
Written and directed by Gavin Hood / Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card
GAME has had on an awfully long and semi-troubled journey towards the big
screen since being published way back in 1985.
The film rights and artistic control of Orson Scott Card’s
futuristic military sci-fi novel have been held by the author himself all
of these years, which subsequently has not allowed for a film adaptation
to come to successful fruition. Nearly three decades later, fans of the literary source
material can now breathe collective sighs of relief, but the question now
remains: Is the ENDER’S GAME film any good?
short answer: Yes, for the most part.
ENDER’S GAME has many endlessly fascinating themes at its core, such as
the nature of “just" warfare and genocide, the usage of children for
militaristic endeavors, and whether or not sacrificing the innocence of
children – or one child in particular – is worth the price of saving
the entire human race at the expense of eradicating another species.
Thankfully, director Gavin Hood (X-MEN
ORIGINS: WOLVERINE) does not lose sight of these weighty and
contemplative issues at the expense of state of the art eye candy and
opulent visual effects. His
screenplay manages to explore the source material’s themes while also
doing a rather good job of developing the main character.
And even though there are times when ENDER’S GAME feels like it's
trying to pack far too much narrative information into its somewhat short
114 minutes, the film nonetheless manages to actually have something
legitimate to say, which far too many brain-dead and comatose sci-fi films
oftentimes fail to do.
overall setup to ENDER’S GAME is not altogether novel or fresh, but
it’s the follow-through after this setup that is: It begins in the
present when an alien race of insectoids known as the “Formacs” launch
an invasion of Earth that nearly decimates the planet and all of humanity.
Alas, one lone savoir, of sorts, Mazer Rackman, manages to find a
way to destroy the mothership in a manner that would ultimately have him labeled
as a war hero and legend. The
Formac, as a result, were all but defeated, but the anxiety of future
attacks loomed large in the war's wake, which led to five decades-plus of the
world building up its military defensives.
Hmmm…sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?
film then flashfowards into the future and we learn of an elaborate and
expensive military training program that nabs the smartest kids – many
often barely in their teens – and places them in Battle School to
develop their tactical minds to help lead the charge against a possible
Formac attack. One of the
children in question is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield, the wonderfully
natural child actor from HUGO) that is the third born child in a family
that, considering society’s laws of a strict two-kid maximum – is
somewhat of a fringe figure. However,
many military leaders, especially Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford, returning
to space after a long absence) seems limitless potential in Ender to
become the next Mazer Rackman. Ender
is indeed recruited, but finds himself largely alienated from his other
recruits, leaving him the dubious task of not only winning over his
superior officers, but others in the school as well that don’t want him
film spends a considerable amount of time in its middle sections exploring
Ender’s rights of passage as well as his training sequences, which
involves zero gravity war games where teams fly up, down, sideways, etc
and try to get the strategic advantage over the other.
Hood films all of these sequences using remarkable CGI effects and
stunt work, even though the more scenes like this that we are given the
more visually repetitive them seem to become (there’s perhaps only so
much you can do with children trying to zap each other in a zero-G sphere).
Fortunately, these moments compliment the reasonably strong
character development, as we get a glimpse into what it takes for Ender to
go from an isolated and socially ostracized kid to a fearless,
resourceful, brilliant, and respected military mind…and all at an age
before he can get a driver’s license on Earth.
the title character’s casting were botched, then I think that the whole
film would have dramatically imploded on itself.
Asa Butterfield, for such a relatively young performer, evokes a
maturity, poise, and raw confidence as Ender that allows him to more than
hold his own against actors like Ford on screen.
His performance is tricky because it has to tread a thorny high
act of relaying the lost innocence of Ender and his vulnerability while, at
the same time, showing him as a kid of dark impulses that allows almost no
one – even his higher ups – to get in his way.
His scenes with Ford – who is predictably, but reliably, all
growling bravado as Graff – have a real give-and-take intensity.
Their dynamic as well is also compelling: Graff essentially sees
Ender as a weapon to hone and define as he desires, and Ender certainly
understands Graff’s methods and ideology, but tries to confidently stand
on his own two feat and become an self-actualized person in the process.
ENDER’S GAME is at its best when it explores the whole convoluted notion
of using boys like Ender for the purposes of eradicating the enemy.
The morally dicey epicenter of the film is whether or not Ender is
indeed an actual hero. Or, is
he just a weapon in the military’s arsenal being tooled and prepped for
the next Formac invasion? Then
comes the film’s late breaking third act twist – which I will not
obviously spoil – that opens up a whole new floodgate of difficult
conundrums on the nature of warfare and whether the systematic
extermination of a species is ever justifiable.
There is an densely packed ambition buried into ENDER’S GAME that
makes it stand far apart from the pack of other witless sci-fi thrillers,
not to mention the relative pack of other recent films with young adult
centric protagonists. The
ramifications for a character’s late-stage actions have never felt so
unnerving as they do in ENDER’S GAME.
film’s third act, though, does lead into a fairly clunky epilogue that
seems more interested in propelling the franchise forward than with
providing for a satisfying ending that hints a future installments.
Some of the side characters as well are a bit underwritten, such as
one played by Ben Kingsley – sporting an uber sweet full facial tattoo
– and another played by TRUE GRIT’s
truly fine Hailee Stanfield, who plays a fellow recruit of Ender’s
that’s also – possibly-maybe – a love interest, but the script cant
really decide. Lastly, I
don’t think that ENDER’S GAME has that sensation of lasting or
lingering staying power as many other iconic sci-fi classics maintain.
Yet, Gavin Hood does a slick and professional job of harnessing the
literary material and, even better, ENDER’S GAME manages to have a brain
in its head and wishes to promote discussion in viewers regarding its
themes after the credits roll by. For
those that bemoan the lack of intelligent ideas-based sci-fi, then
ENDER’S GAME may be your medicine.