out of Five
Running time: 114
Watchable sci-fi adventure enlivened by some decent special effects and strong performances from Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford and Viola Davis, though the scripting is a little simplistic in places and the ending feels anti-climactic.
What's it all about?
Directed by Gavin Hood and based on the award-winning novel by Orson Scott Card (the less said about whom, the better), Ender's Game is set in a future where the Earth has narrowly survived a devastating attack by the insect-like Formics and has turned to its children in the hopes of training a gifted military leader in preparation for an inevitable future battle. Enter Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), a 12 year old trainee who shows great promise, according to Battle School commander Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford), largely thanks to a unique
combination of empathy, intelligence and strategic brilliance.
Convinced that Ender is the right boy for the job, Graff and his psychology specialist Major Anderson (Viola Davis) put Ender through a series of tests, including a team-based laser-quest-style game in zero gravity that replicates a Formic attack. However, as Ender learns more
about the Formics, he begins to wonder whether total annihilation on the battlefield is really their only option.
Asa Butterfield is well cast as Ender, as his skinny frame and pallid, wide-eyed looks make him an unlikely choice for future military leader - indeed, the way he deals with bullies is one of the things that brings him to Graff's attention in the first place. That said, Hood handles Ender's gradual acceptance by his peers nicely, aided by strong performances by Hailee Steinfeld (as fellow trainee Petra) and The Kings of Summer's Moises Arias as Ender's chief rival, Bonzo
In addition, Ford and Davis are good value as the grizzled Colonel and his concerned second-in-command, though Ben Kingsley is under-used as legendary battle hero Mazer Rackham. On top of that, the special effects are decent throughout and the futuristic production design is
appealing (incidentally, iPads appear to be more or less standard issue in the future and have even become a bit chunkier).
The film's biggest problem is its overly simplistic script, which often feels a bit like watching someone progress in a video game and occasionally comes across like Harry Potter meets The Last Starfighter (with a bit of Starship Troopers thrown in). What's doubly frustrating is that the script raises several interesting ideas about military sacrifice, the personal cost of warfare, compassion in battle and so on, but only pays them lip service and never really explores them –
the slightly anti-climactic ending borders on laughable in this regard.
Ender’s Game is watchable enough, thanks to strong performances and an intriguing central idea, but it doesn't exactly leave you pumped for the potential sequel hinted at by the ending.