Twitter Plot Summary: Big bugs are set to destroy the planet, so humanity trains up a bunch of smart kids to defeat them!
Director: Gavin Hood
Key Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, Aramis Knight, Nonso Anozie, Conor Carroll, Suraj Partha, Abigail Breslin, Jimmy Pinchak, Moises Arias, Khylin Rhambo
Five Point Summary:
1. And lo, how to end a fight against far superior forces.
2. Sup with Harrison Ford’s hairstyle?
3. Aww bless, Ender’s getting all emotional. And what sort of a name is that anyway?
4. Huzzah! Sir Ben Kingsley with Maori tattoos!
5. Well… er, that ending came as a surprise…
Ender’s Game has been a long-gestating project, and the Orson Scott Card novel has apparently been under consideration for a movie adaptation for decades. For something aimed at the early teen market (and possibly younger), Ender’s Game is actually quite dark. The Earth was once attacked by an invading alien force and, through sheer luck, the invaders were defeated. Fifty years later there’s another threat on the horizon and so humanity is forced to train intelligent children, essentially with video games, to turn them into unbeatable tactical geniuses and save all of humanity. No pressure there then.
The plot is only moderately interesting for the most part – we follow a promising youngster called Ender (Butterfield) as he gradually works his way up the ranks in an ongoing effort to prove himself to thos around him – demonstrating that he not only has the ability to end a fight, but to prevent all future fights – a point that draws the attention of Colonel Graff (Ford) and ultimately leads to Ender commanding his own army. Asa Butterfield is solid as the conflicted Ender – a “third” who was only born because his older brother and sister were either too violent or too emotional to succeed. Ender has to try and balance those two elements of his personality. Within these two conflicting sides to his personality is his tactical genius, which is given plenty of room to breath throughout the not inconsiderable running time.
The two big names in the cast – Harrison Ford and Sir Ben Kingsley – are reasonable in their roles, albeit seemingly just going through the motions. Ford does his usual grumpy old man schtick (moderately entertaining) and Kingsley finds a new accent to try out (Kiwi). The real meat comes from the younger cast, Hailee Steinfeld and Aramis Knight in particular are strong in their supporting roles. Equally strong, in a separate sense, is the special effects, which indicates that Gavin Hood has learned a lot about making effects-laden films since his disastrous attempt at the Wolverine Origins movie.
Unlike something like Starship Troopers, we don’t see much of the alien menace. This seems a deliberate move on the part of scriptwriter/director Gavin Hood (I’ve not read the original novel. Yet), as it helps build our one-sided opinion of them. They’re a threat to humanity, so we as an audience need to invest in the characters who are to defend our planet from destruction. Just don’t expect things to be as clear cut as the aforementioned Starship Troopers ultimately was.
The politics are perhaps a tad too heavy handed to be effective – using kids to win a war is, after all, frowned upon. The key thing to remember is that the adults in this story know exactly what they’re doing and are essentially exploiting the naivety of youth. The plotting is also a little too linear for my tastes, there’s conflict between Ender, his fellow students and his superior officers but otherwise it’s literally watching Ender move from one group to the next, proceeding up the chain of command. The sequences help demonstrate his tactical knowledge though, so in that respect they serve their purpose. The finale too is incredibly dark and comes as something of a surprise. Still, given the core theme of the film, this shouldn’t be massively unexpected – just a surprise. It might be a bit dark for some of the target audience, but for me it was tonally spot on. A few tweaks maybe to the script would’ve helped, but otherwise I doubt it could’ve been improved upon.
Favourite scene: Ender sticking it to Bonzo, the jumped-up little twerp.
Quote: “Let’s see how he handles rejection.”
Silly Moment: Ben Kingsley’s face or accent. You choose.