Ender’s Game Review

Posted: November 6, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

enders-game-movie-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Since the Harry Potter film series took off in 2001, film studios have been searching for other young adult book series to adapt. The only two to really take off have been Twilight and The Hunger Games, but that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from unleashing a plethora of similarly themed films. Examples include Percy Jackson, Mortal Instruments, Beautiful Creatures, Eragon, and probably a shit ton more I’m forgetting. At first glance, Ender’s Game might seem like just another in a long line of similar films, but the actual product is much different. The film is based on a book, but unlike the adaptations listed above where the book was written relatively recently, the Ender’s Game novel was published in 1985 and is widely considered a sci-fi classic. Additionally, while the source material features a young adult protagonist, it’s more of a regular novel than a “young adult” novel. These two factors coupled with a very respectable cast gave me enough incentive to check out the film for myself.

In the year 2086, Earth is attacked by a bug-like alien race called the Formics. Though humanity managed to defeat the invaders, the threat remains and steps are being taken to ensure they won’t destroy Earth. A program is set up where children are trained in war tactics in order to defeat the Formics due to being, “raised on war games” as well as having an aptitude for absorbing information that adults don’t. One of these children is Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), a brilliant tactician who Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) believes is the key to winning the war. So Ender is sent to Battle School where he must learn how to lead while dealing with other students, authorities with their own agendas, and the demons wrestling within himself.

Ender’s Game starts out rough. Within the first few minutes there’s some really over the top acting and a few contrived moments. Thankfully though, the film snaps out of this quickly enough and eventually the weaker acting fades completely On fact with a few small exceptions the cast is pretty good here. I liked Asa Butterfield a lot in Hugo and he continues to impress here in a very different role. Ender is a very interesting character. He’s smart, capable, and confident, but at the same time has doubts and struggles with balancing his compassion and his tactical mind. It’s also really satisfying to watch him problem solve and Asa Butterfield captures the character quite well. The rest of the child actors are rounded out by experienced child actors, notably Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit fame. While her performance here doesn’t come close to her Mattie Ross character, she is likable enough. Harrison Ford is also quite good and genuinely seems to be trying as oppose to the sleep walking he’s been known for lately. Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley round out the cast with small but important roles which they handle well. While the cast does have some issues, the core group of actors are solid.

On a visual level, the film works. The effort put into the production design shows and I like the world they constructed. The ships and technology look cool and futuristic without being too “out there”. I also enjoyed the Formic designs for what little we see of them and their world. Throughout the film, Ender and the other kids undergo several training exercises. These include some cool zero gravity shootouts and tactical space battles. Director Gavin Hood makes these scenes very exciting even though they are just exercises. I was worried about Hood given his last foray into big budget filmmaking was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but his work is actually quite good here.

Where the movie really falters is in the pacing. I’m not sure if it was the script or the editing, but the film moves so quickly through Ender’s training that a lot of moments which should have an emotional punch failed to do so. I haven’t read the novel so I can only speculate about what happened in the translation, but it seems clear that in trying to pack as much he could from the book into the film, Hood took some of the humanity away from the film. Additionally, the quick pace leads to the examination of several themes not being as prominent as I would have liked. The film touches on the themes of bullying, how we treat our friends and enemies, child soldiers, and the ethics of war, but given these elements end up getting skimmed over in order to maximise how much material they can adapt from the novel.

This is a problem which really holds Ender’s Game back, and the film has other issues as well, but even so I still enjoyed the film on the whole. It has an engaging concept, some solid acting from its principles, an interesting main character, strong production values, and fun set pieces. Additionally, while I mentioned the film missing those emotional beats, the ending is actually a pretty powerful moment. I have a feeling Ender’s Game could have been a lot better, but as it stands it’s still pretty good.

B

Comments
  1. reel411 says:

    man. few things are more frustrating than bad pacing.

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