Ender’s Game Review: A Fine Thematic Sci-Fi Flick
As the saying goes, War is hell and apparently so is adapting teen novels. For every success like The Hunger Games, we get a movie much like The Host. Based on what is considered one of the greatest sci-fi novels ever writtern, Gavin Hood delivers an entertaining mix of The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Starship Troopers, with his adaptation of Ender's Game.
50 years after Earth repelled an invasion from an ant like alien race called the Formics, Earth's society has become highly militarized, fearing a second invasion. From a young age, children are taught using computer games to develop military skills and fight a future war. These children and teenagers minds have become so advanced and intelligent, that they're able to process data and comprehend much more than most adults can.
Andrew "Ender" Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is a skilled cadet at the International Fleet and is being groomed by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to be the great leader to win the war against the Formics. Ender is taken to Battle School, where Ender rapidly rises up the ranks. Though Ender's tactical ability is never in doubt, he has an internal crisis between his violent and humane sides.
Ignoring the controversy involving Orson Scott Card and his vile views, Ender's Game is well structured sci-fi movie. Director Gavin Hood has shown a massive improvement to his previous effort X-Men Origins: Wolverine, with improved storytelling, substance and special effects. Hood assembles a dream cast with the likes of Butterfield, Ford, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld and Sir Ben Kingsley just to name a few. As expected from a cast of that calibre, most of the cast give strong performances, centered around Butterfield performance, given a difficult role of someone who is emotionally cold, highly intelligent and has to show what he is feeling with subtle looks: and Butterfield does it well, showing his talent at his young age. The character of Ender himself does come off as someone who is simply perfect at everything he does.
The screenplay does keep to the structure of a novel, as it is easy to tell when chapters would have start: we go from Ender seemingly being kicked out of school, Ender getting emitted to Battle School, Ender joining a team, Ender commanding his own team, etc... Ender's Game
sticks very much to its themes about this military society and the effects on the youth. Throughout the movie there are constant themes of manipulation, from Colonel Graff's manipulation of Ender, Ender's manipulation of other students and the culture of competition within teams and against teams. This theme also leads to the emphasis and expectations placed upon Ender, the effects on him and the doubts it might cause, as we look at an extreme of overbearing education.
Hood improves massively as an action director and has always shown what he is capable with the dramatic elements. The stand out set pieces are the zero gravity training sequences, as it showcases the evolution of the students and their ability for tactics in a 3D environment, accompanied with Steve Jablonsky's soaring score where he uses his Inception style horns. The final battle is a tense and well crafted sequence with excellent CGI.
For a movie based on a popular and critically acclaimed novel that is revered by many, it felt like some parts of the story were only given the briefest look. Moments that were only hinted at were Ender's older brother's violent tendencies and it is only near the end when there is a debate about the Formics and their motives. But Card himself was a producer, so he must have signed off or approved the changes.
While Ender's Game does have solid action set-pieces, the movie is at its best focusing on its themes and character development, working as a moral tale and a compelling sci-fi story. For a movie that will be shoehorned into the teen genre, it is a going to be one of the strongest because of the strength of the story, performances and source material.