MOVIE REVIEW: Ender's Game

Based on the celebrated sci-fi novel, the film presents a futuristic world where children are trained to fight an intergalactic war.




( With the popularity of stories about the youth struggling in battle in futuristic worlds, it seemed only natural that the sci-fi novel Ender's Game would make it to the big screen. Though written in 1985, it is still exciting and relevant. Author Orson Scott Card's controversial stance against homosexuality may be incredibly unpopular and terribly misguided, but the power of his literary work is undeniable. In this film adaptation, we are treated to the wealth of imagination and the important questions the novel raises.




Alien invasion


Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is a Third-a third child in a world that limits families to two children. This is also a world where humans have mastered interplanetary spaceflight, and thus encounter an insect-like alien race known as the Formics. The Earth is ravaged in a war between the humans and Formics. The authorities have taken to recruiting children in the war effort, since children are capable of devising strategies that adults cannot imagine.




Ender (Asa Butterfield) and his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin)


Ender is accepted into Battle School, a military program based in a space station which trains and evaluates children as future officers in the International Fleet for the imminent battle against the Formics. He is separated from his older siblings-the violent Peter (Jimmy Jax Pinchak) and the compassionate Valentine (Abigail Breslin)-who both wash out as prospects for Battle School because of their extreme personalities. Ender exhibits both Peter's capacity for violence and Valentine's sensitivity and ability to love. His fear of veering off and becoming too much like Peter haunts him throughout the film.




War simulations in Battle School


The cadets participate in competitive war simulations in zero gravity. Ender proves to be a brilliant strategist, so much so that he becomes the leader of a new army of young cadets. The systematic violence that Ender is trained to employ becomes a central theme of the film. Is it acceptable to subject a child to this? There is a war to be fought, and Ender could very well be mankind's best hope. Questions of military preemptive strikes arise, and the idea of children fighting the wars of men is drawn here in striking detail.


Ender is joined by a diverse set of friends, also in training, who hope to face the alien threat together. Despite the futuristic setting, the childhood friendships feel all too familiar. Kids will be kids, even when they are being put through the rigors of combat training.




The fate of the world rests on Ender


While it is a big space action flick, Ender's Game is also the story of a child trying to make his way in the world. One of this story's strokes of genius is bringing a massive, world-threatening conflict into the picture and placing the burden on a child's shoulders. As his superiors try to make Ender tough enough to be a leader and a fighter, he just tries to get by and do the right thing.


In structure and plot, the film displays a dogged faithfulness to the novel and carefully translates it. The film concentrates on Ender's character, almost to a fault, and cuts out chunks of the novel that don't have anything to do with Ender directly, thus keeping the story tight and focused.




International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford), and Ender Wiggin, the new recruit


One of the things that stood out is the expressiveness of lead Asa Butterfield. His Ender is memorable, and he's able to hold his own alongside movie greats such as Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley. Unlike some young adult-targeted fare that limits itself to pretty people giving longing looks, this film serves as a showcase for Butterfield's talents as he fully embodies the character of Ender. In the rare occasions that Ender breaks down and cries, Butterfield shows his inner struggle.




The young cadets train in zero gravity


Even with flashy special effects, the strong character work will leave a lasting impression. It's hard to be impressed with zero gravity after watching Gravity, but the training sequences here are done pretty well. Though scenes give off a Star Trek vibe, with Ender giving commands to his people, the film still feels dynamic and action-packed.


While the film focuses on the kids, it also shows discussions and arguments among the adults, which reveal the depth of the conflicts and moral quandaries the film explores. The directing technique can sometimes be heavy-handed, and there are times when dialogue seems a bit blunt and too on the nose. But it's forgivable considering the kind of level the film is operating at.




Ender is ordained by Graff as the military’s next great hope


Ender's Game is very entertaining. With so many great sci-fi movies out there, repeated viewings might be needed to gauge how it stands within the tradition. But the movie is definitely worth watching. It provides a lot of action and excitement, driven by thought-provoking issues about humanity, youth, innocence, and morality.


Rating: •••• 4 out of 5 spots


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