Seventy years after an invasion of Earth by an alien race known as Formics, young Ender Wiggin may be the human race’s last hope for survival. One man, Mazer Rackham, stopped the invasion years ago, now Ender trains under the guidance of Colonel Graff to lead the fleet in an offensive strategy to prevent another attack. This is Ender’s Game.
Gavin Hood, the director behind X-Men Origins: Wolverine, tackles Orson Scott Card’s Hugo Award winning novel Ender’s Game for the big screen. Asa Butterfield stars as the film’s teen hero, Ender Wiggin with Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff and Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham. Hood guides the film as if it wants to be the Star Wars for a new generation. Unfortunately the material feels a bit derivative and familiar – but not so much to keep it from being an incredibly enjoyable and exciting Science Fiction epic. The special effects are impressive, immersing the audience into a Ender’s world absolutely and completely. The performances from the principals give the film the authenticity the script demands keeping the plot from becoming too satirical and silly. While Harrison Ford is back on his game, it’s Asa Butterfield that holds the film together combined with a story where the consequences of the character’s actions hold an extraordinary – and emotional – amount of weight.
Ender’s Game jumps into a world where an alien race known as Formics had attempted to invade Earth but were stopped by a lone hero who discovered their weakness, exploiting it to win the battle. But not before millions upon millions were lost. Since then, the International Fleet train cadets at an early age to battle the “buggers” through intensive graphic simulation training not too far removed from modern gaming. One young trainee, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin shows tremendous promise and may be Earth’s last hope in preventing another invasion – and the lost of more lives. Colonel Graff recognizes Ender’s advanced tactical skills and quickly promotes him through Battle School and, later, Command School, until he stands ready to lead the International Fleet on an offensive strike.
Harrison Ford stands out as Colonel Graff with a commanding and complex performance. He is unerringly confident of the decisions he must enforce and the sacrifices he must make. He projects the admiration and respect he has for Ender and his talents which, in turn, define Graff as much as they define the audiences reactions to Ender and the International Fleet’s expectations. He is authority. Asa Butterfield manages to give Ender a resonating strength and confidence that his thin, frail frame suggests. There’s a lot going on in that noggin of his which is, at times, far more interesting than the spectacle going on around him. Asa is reunited with his Hugo co-star Ben Kingsley once again and their initial scenes are some of the most interesting and engaging of the film. Ender’s Game could have used far more of Kingsley’s Mazer challenging Ender in a mental chess game of technique, theory and challenges. The growing look of amazement and hope on Kingsley’s tattooed face lifts the film above its condensed script. While all three are magnificent, Ford is outstanding especially as he has to deal with the aftereffects of his decisions on the faces of the young cadets he commanded and manipulated.
Gavin Hood is far more successful getting the effects on film than he did with his previous film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The scenes in the zero gravity battle chamber are worthy of the best imagined Danger Room from Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. The scene where Ender and his band of misfits use their wits to out smart their opponents while they are out numbered and strategically disadvantaged is as thrilling as the best underdog scene on film. The director really gets to shine towards the conclusion when Ender is leading his fleet in Command School simulations with Hood having Ender split a sea of asteroids like a futuristic Charlton Heston at a galactic Red Sea. He also shines in some key one-on-one character moments throughout the film; in addition to Ender and Graff, Hood allows the young hero to bond with the adversarial Bonzo (Moises Arias) and his immediate sergeant, Dap (Nonso Anozie). Oddly, the scenes on Earth are the ones that come across less effective.
Ender’s Game is a film targeting the modern teen boy, it knows its audience and strikes directly at that demographic. The further removed from that movie going subset, the less likely the film will succeed. For all its strengths, it tends to take things far too seriously and is a little too heavy handed for its own good. At times, the film forgets to have fun. It typically overcomes this quickly with stunning visuals and remarkable performances from Butterfield, Ford and Kingsley – along with most of the supporting cast. Ender’s journey is riveting and engrossing, the character grows constantly, learning about his environment, his compatriots, his enemies and, most importantly, himself. The actions he takes are bold and exciting – and they have unforeseen consequences that redefine much of the entire story, as well as Ender’s own self definition. Like many films these days, Ender’s Game ends in a way that promises more to come preventing the story from reaching an entirely satisfactory conclusion. This will likely prevent the film from becoming this generation’s Star Wars it so desperately want to become, but it does not prevent the film from remaining a thoroughly enjoyable and trilling theatrical experience.
4 out of 5
Ender’s Game (2013)