Release: Friday, November 1, 2013
This reviewer deliberately avoided familiarizing himself with Orson Scott Card’s words before seeing the film adaptation, fearing that the movie would somehow disappoint — as these things often do. The result was a highly enjoyable experience from start to finish, one that remained free of any bias, complaint or comparison that would inevitably surface through different scenes, had I read the original material. Therefore, this is me putting a huge asterisk at the top of this review.
On its own, Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood (Tsotsi; X-Men Origins: Wolverine), is a competent action/sci-fi adventure that captures the scope and beauty of the universe as well as the complex workings of the human mind. An especially gifted child, named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is taken suddenly out of his school on Earth and placed into an international fleet of kids of a similar age who are receiving specific military training to fight off humanity’s greatest threat — extraterrestrial beings known as the Formics.
Recognized as something of a prodigy, the Neo of ten-year-olds, Ender instantly earns the attention of the highly-respected Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), and for the same reason, finds himself the pariah of his class. Constantly picked on because he has a mind of his own, which is principally what attracts his higher-ups’ attention, Ender doesn’t have the luxury of friends. It seems like it’s going to be hell away from Earth in this orbiting space station.
But as Ender becomes more integrated into his training and the military life in space, his strongest assets — an ability to remain calm, think rationally and strategically, and perhaps most interestingly of all, his wanting to question authority (his clashes with the nasty Bonzo Madrid, played by The Kings of Summer‘s Moises Arias serve as some of the better moments) — begin to garner the respect of his peers. Graff is perpetually reminded of what a good choice he made with this kid.
Unbeknownst to Ender, though, Graff’s breeding him for something much larger than simply taking orders on a daily basis. His ultimate plan is to have Ender, as strong-minded as he is, lead an entire fleet of ships in a final confrontation with the Formics — an effort which hopefully would wipe out this race of invaders permanently, and ultimately bring peace to humanity. To get to this stage Graff has Major Anderson draft a series of simulations and ‘training’ programs to prepare the youngster for the real battle. Indeed, it’s not so much the end game that’s kept a secret from Ender; everyone tells him — not the least of which being Colonel Graff — how special he is, and his intelligence affords him the realization that he’s not there to be just another young military personnel. It’s how he is conned into being the greatest pawn that ultimately will bring Ender to his knees, making him doubt the validity of everything that has ever been taught to him. Will he be mentally tough enough to handle this day, when (not if) it comes?
There is a decidedly relaxed atmosphere to the proceedings that makes Ender’s Game a very fun watch, even if the film doesn’t quite blast off for thrilling territory. Gavin Hood’s adaptation is very much your standard exposition-heavy film until a gigantic CGI climax puts the finishing touches upon everything we’ve been shown. But even this event — the battle — is relatively low-key in its dramatic appeal.
When it comes to looking at the pacing of the film, this is where not having read the book really becomes an advantage. The film is enjoyable in its own right, though its far from being devoid of weaknesses.
There are many moments that linger simply far too long, the edits of which would help make the film flow more evenly and make particular scenes more meaningful. With all of this said, though, the rest of the film really is quite something. It’s visually dazzling and the performances brought on by Ford, Butterfield and Ben Kingsley (who plays Mazer Rackham, regarded as one of humanity’s best odds of having a savior given his heroic actions in the past) are all a great deal of fun to experience. The tattoos obscure Kingsley’s face enough to make you forget he was at one point the Mandarin, so that’s a success in itself.
Recommendation: Ender’s Game is more often than not compelling viewing, made more so if you go in without having preconceived notions of how the central characters are meant to act, feel or look like; of how the tone and atmosphere are established; of how we face down the enemy. All of these things could wind up being some level of inaccurate in the adaptation otherwise, and fortunately I was spared this extra complication by not even so much as knowing about the book until a few weeks before this release. I give the director at least this credit: if I wasn’t entirely interested in the book before this film, I most definitely am now. I will be picking up a copy in the very near future.
Running Time: 114 mins.
Quoted: “I’ll do everything I can to win this war.”
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