Review: Ender’s Game – Gamers save the galaxy
As an adult who occasionally finds time for gaming, I can tell you there is nothing more frustrating than having your butt handed to you by a smart-alecky kid who somehow manages to intuitively know every trick in the book – without ever having read the darn thing (like I did.) The film version of the science-fiction novel, Ender’s Game, takes that baffling premise to the next level and has a group of child gamers using their skills to actually save the galaxy from an alien invasion – making even Harrison Ford look lame in the process. How’s it feel ‘Han Solo’?
In the film genre of kids playing life and death games within science-fiction settings, Ender’s Game beats The Hunger Games hands down. This movie has incredible special effects, superb acting and even some interesting philosophical observations; and although Hunger Games shares some of those qualities I felt that Ender’s world (or the Enderverse) was much more engaging for adults and children – both male and female. But don’t fret Katniss Everdeen fans; we can all still get along. Right?
In the 22nd century the Earth has been attacked by a race of alien bugs, or “buggers,” properly called the “Formics.” Millions of humans have been killed and the people of our planet have joined forces to fight off the common enemy. A fighter-pilot, Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), finally defeats the invaders, driving them back to their home planet and he becomes a legendary hero to all mankind.
To prevent the Earth from being invaded again, the now militaristic society creates a program that trains children who have an inherent gift for war games and strategic planning, molding them into young soldiers who will fight the next war against the Formics by utilizing remote drone technology. The prepubescent Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is singled out by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to be the one person who might have the ability to defeat the aliens.
Ender’s gift for gaming strategy allows him to quickly climb through the ranks, attending battle training and then the “Command School,” he eventually ends up with his own team of misfit kid-warriors who prepare for the imminent final battle against the Formics.
I haven’t read the book, so this review is about the movie on its own merits, but I can say that after seeing the film I just might make room in my reading queue for this one. I found its characters, story action, and the examination of young men being sacrificed to fight the wars of older men, fascinating.
There is certainly a lot of additional philosophical ground covered here as well, like the emotional disconnect of violence in video games and modern day drone warfare, overpopulation and child limits, empathy for your enemies, genocide, and the anti-gay controversy that Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card stirred up a few months back and that some construe to be embedded within the story (although that’s a stretch.)
Directed (and co-written) by Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), the biggest fault with the film is that it is a little too heavy-handed in its messaging, especially towards the end, which to me was the weakest and most sluggish part of this otherwise very good movie. But no matter where you stand on its thought-provoking themes, you should have plenty to talk and think about after the movie is over – and that’s always a fun plus.
Of course you can always just forget all the philosophical nonsense and just enjoy this movie as an entertaining science-fiction action flick. It has some awesomely realistic anti-gravity sequences, with the soldier-kids practicing military maneuvers against each other in simulated zero-G battle (never mind that they will never actually use these skills in an actual battle – it’s still cool.) There’s also our galaxy’s version of the “Death Star” that, to be honest, kicks George Lucas’ stagnant moon version’s arse.
The young cast in this film is very good and includes Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as Ender’s friend and “wing-girl” (so to speak), and Moises Arias (who was excellent in The Kings of Summer) as Bonzo Madrid, Ender’s diminutive human adversary. Academy Award nominated actress Viola Davis (The Help) plays the boy’s military psychologist, Major Gwen Anderson.
Even though it is clunky at times and rushed at others – like an awkward sequence when the hero takes a leave of absence to get his head together while visiting his sister (Abigail Breslin) on Earth – Ender’s Game is still one of the best science-fiction films to come along in some time and is absolutely worth seeing on the big screen. Grade: 7.5/10
Photos © 2013 Summit Entertainment