The People’s Critic is back! Some excellent and major life changes had forced me to put the site on a brief hiatus, but nothing will keep me away from the “critically” important task of telling all of you what I think about recent films! So let’s get on with the show…
Let me get this out of the way, I have not read Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel, Ender’s Game. This review does not reflect quality of adaptation but merely the merit of the film as it stands independent from the book. That being said, Ender’s Game is intriguing enough and perhaps marks the start of a potentially strong franchise.
Regardless of how you feel about Ender’s Game, it is nice to see Harrison Ford in space again. Ford plays Colonel Hyrum Graff, a likely pun on the word “gruff” as his characters is certainly that. Following the common tradition involving child protagonists, this is a film about the future. Graff and his International Military seek out and train only the most promising children in his Battle School because only children have the potential to master the intricate “war games” necessary to protect Earth from a looming threat from an alien race known as the Formics. The Formics nearly triumphed over the humans once before and every child grows up learning the story of Mazer Rackham, who sacrificed his life to destroy the mothership. Now, the humans are preparing to take the offensive and eliminate the Formics forever. Graff finds his golden child in the form of Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), an introverted yet brilliant young recruit.
Sacrifice is a pervasive theme in the film and it is dealt with in a very provocative way. The title itself plays the title character’s surname within the colloquial term “End Game,” which suggests the notion of performing actions for the supposed greater good. Thus, there is always a looming sense of distrust and darkness regarding the motives of Graff and his school. Graff’s methods are harsh and borderline abusive. However, this does keep the audience guessing and on edge throughout the perpetual “hazing” of Ender as he single handedly rises through the ranks despite tremendous adversity from his fellow recruits and superiors.
Ender’s Game is a surprisingly bleak and dark look at humanity, but so it is with most good science fiction. The main hurdle that the film struggles with is its unevenness in developing Ender’s time in Battle School and his relations with family and life on Earth. The film makes a habit of glossing over details that could have made the film more character driven. Instead, screenwriter/director Gavin Hood chooses to downplay characterization and simply toss archetypes into moral ambiguity with clever special effects, especially some of the “war game” scenes. Nonetheless, the moral ambiguity that he does emphasize is palpable and the film’s premise is fascinating at times.
Overall, Ender’s Game is a mixed bag. It is dark and an interesting concept, but it wants to keep at least one foot in lighter territory in the hopes of appealing to a young audience. The novel’s fan-base has been young-adult oriented – yet the novel debuted in 1985, resulting in a potentially wide audience appeal. However, the film’s identity crisis does feel obvious and blunts the film’s overall impact. This is certainly not a bad movie, and science fiction fans and fans of the book have a very worthy film to watch. C+
Ender’s Game is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes.