Ender’s Game is an adaptation of the book of the same name, written by Orson Scott Card. The film has been directed by Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and has already faced criticism due to the controversial views of it’s original author. As a fan of both the book and as someone who is aware of his views I shall be reviewing the film without taking into account either of those factors, because it is obviously a completely separate piece of work. To get it out the way now though, I do prefer the book.
Set in a distant future where Earth has previously been to war with a race of aliens known as the Formics, humanity is preparing to face them one more time in an all or nothing battle for survival. In order to prepare for this war they evaluate and test the brightest children in the hope that they can be sent to Battle School in order to be of use in the upcoming engagement. Enter Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) a third child who his parents had to seek permission to have. His older brother and sister, Peter and Valentine, had both been considered for the program but Peter was seen as too violent and Valentine as too compassionate. Ender on the other hand, is seen as having the perfect combination of the two and after defeating a boy in a fight and kicking him until he no longer stands up, so that he also wins all the future fights, it is decided by Colonel Graff that he may be the perfect person to lead the human armies against the Formics.
What follows is the story of Wiggins training towards this ultimate goal and a look at the troubles and complexities of war and the training of people, in this case young children, in the art of it. Asa Butterfield gives an admirable performance as Ender and although the script doesn’t really allow him to fully explore his characters supposed inner turmoil, he prevents the super intelligent Ender from becoming too distant a character from the watching audeience. Although the hinted at love interest in Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) never manages to get past the awkward stage. Harrison Ford meanwhile is doing his best gruff military commander spiel as Colonel Graff and Ben Kingsley’s performance (I’ll avoid the name of his character as it’s a slight spoiler) see’s him adopting an accent that, to be honest I couldn’t pin down, but is definitely interesting.
The film itself feels a bit rushed with certain aspects not quite getting the attention you really want them to. For example, the Battle Room, a zero gravity environment which is used to simulate space fighting conditions and tactics at the Battle School. It’s an exciting and original idea and something that surely the entire audience wants to see more of, but it is tragically underused with only around 5 minutes of actual on screen time devoted to it. Likewise the establishment of the relationship between the children, that eventually plays a major part in the conclusion of the film, never actually feels explored, as we are just left to assume that they have bonded deeply during their time at Battle School with it actually never being shown.
Ender’s Game is a decent Sci-Fi film that never quite manages to find it’s way into being a great film. There are a collection of decent performances and a couple of decent ideas, mainly the ethical nature of war and the sacrifice of children for the greater good, but they are never truly used as well as they could have been. Rather than being a deep look they are given a passing look and then left alone. It also suffers from a very Hollywood ending which I obviously shan’t go into but is likely to leave many cringing.