Ender's Game (2013)

In the not so distant future, earth is attacked by hordes of insectoid aliens called the Formics. Millions of human beings are slaughtered before the invasion is repelled. It is proven that we are not alone, and humanity will never be the same. Post-invasion humankind focuses intensively on one objective: training the next generation of leaders who will defend earth against a possible return of the Formics. To this end, a military academy is established using virtual reality video games to find children of exceptional talent who could lead earth's forces in the coming conflict. The ultimate goal is to find earth's most brilliant tactical genius who will spearhead the war. The genius the military is looking for comes from an unlikely source; the young and socially awkward teenage introvert Ender Wiggin.

Such is the plot of Ender's Game (2013, PG-13), based on the 1985 Orson Scott Card book of the same name. The movie follows the fortunes of Ender Wiggin as he enters the academy and has to overcome increasingly difficult circumstances in order to persevere.

Ender's Game
stars Asa Butterfield in the title role, as well as Hailee Steinfeld, Aramis Knight and Abigail Breslin - or, as I call them, the dorky kid, that girl, the other kid and Ender's sister. I don't know who these people are; a bunch of teeny-bopper actors is all I can say about them. It's adult cast features Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley in fairly prominent roles, as well as Viola Davis who was the star of the excellent film The Help. Asa Butterfield as Ender was the only character I was really convinced by. He gave the character a lot of depth and revealed the multi-faceted nature of Ender Wiggin. The teeny-bopper supporting actors were alright but just filler; Harrison Ford...well...he is too well known to be a serious actor anymore. Whenever I see Harrison Ford in anything, it's like, "Oh! There's Harrison Ford pretending to be a doctor. Look, there's Harrison Ford pretending to be the President!" In this movie it was, "Hey, look at Harrison Ford pretending to be a colonel." That's about all I can say about that. So, the secondary cast was so-so, but the choice of Butterfield for Ender Wiggin was superb.

I have never read the Ender's Game book, so this was my first real exposure to Orson Scott Card's science fiction. I was fairly happy with the movie; it was incredibly intense at times. Director Gavin Hood maintained a very nice build up in the story arc, gradually drawing us more and more into the mind of Ender Wiggin and establishing a very impressive crescendo of action and intensity towards the end. The pace was very well done. Sometimes in book adaptation movies you feel like certain parts are being dragged and others rushed; I never got that sense here.

One thing I never understood (spoiler); earth has been decimated by the Formics. Millions of human beings were killed. The Formics are gigantic insects, not unlike the "Bugs" of Starship Troopers. The entire aim of the futuristic military academy is to train leaders to fight and hopefully destroy these creatures. Yet, when Ender finally has a chance to exterminate them and destroy their planet, he is moved with a sudden humanitarian concern for the rights of the Formics to exist! In fact, at the end of the film, he goes out of his way to preserve their species when he had the chance of obliterating it forever.

This makes no sense to me. I have never understood these sudden humanitarian impulses towards despicable alien races. I could not sympathize at all with Ender here. If you want to make me feel sympathy towards a race that is going to be exterminated, make them somewhat intrinsically lovable. When we are talking about gigantic insects who have actually killed millions of people, I have a hard time grasping Ender's moral dilemma. It's like when Captain Picard suddenly starts waxing eloquently about how the Borg have a "right to exist." Yeah. Right.

I don't know whether this is a feature of the film alone or of the book; if the latter, I suspect it was probably done better in writing. Overall I liked the movie, even though it had some teeny-bopper moments and even though Harrison Ford should stop acting now. I give it two tiaras.

Review by Boniface