Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeild, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Aramis
Knight, Suraj Partha, Moises Arias, Nonso Anozie
Take a little bit of Star Wars, The Matrix, The Hunger Games, and the Harry Potter franchise, blend the ingredients together and what comes out is a film called Ender’s Game. Directed by Gavin Hood, this sci-fi thriller based on the popular 1985 novel written by Orson Scott Card is a very pleasant surprise at the box office. The science fiction war drama could just be the next big teen franchise for audiences to gladly spend their movie dollars on.
The story begins with a narration explaining that earth was nearly annihilated 70 years ago when alien invaders called Formics tried to colonize the planet. The ant-like invaders were defeated, but now world leaders fear that another attack is imminent. Since the war ended, military minds have been developing sophisticated drone armies and spaceships that are so complex that apparently only a flexible unprejudiced young mind of a child will be able to grasp the workings of them as well as be able to command the machines. Those in charge are on a quest to find the one person under the age of 18 that will rise up, command, and lead armies to fight against and defeat the alien threat.
When Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is able to outsmart a group of bullies, the boy is identified by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) as a potential recruit for the space academy responsible for training the youths of today to become sophisticated fighting machines. Graff, along with the expertise of Major Anderson (Viola Davis), put Ender through a series of tests, and soon both are convinced that he is a brilliant prodigy that could rise to protect the human race from any potential threats from the Formics. The instructors from the academy keep asking “Is he the one?” (Can we see another “Neo” from The Matrix in the making?) Their goal is to get Ender ready as quickly as possible to become a military leader others will follow into battle.
Ender is given charge of a group of cadets known as The Dragon House and he skillfully engages his team in a series of games taking place in an anti-gravity environment. Of course, Ender is able to use his wit and craftiness to out maneuver the other teams, and his squad wins the games hands down. His talent to understand his enemies and find their weakness is not matched by any of the other students at the academy.
To further Ender’s training, Mazar Raekman (Ben Kingsley), a war hero and school instructor, steps in to teach Ender more about the art of war and how to outsmart the enemy. It is Raekman’s job to get the young commander mentally and emotionally ready for battle.
The filmmakers get super creative with the CGI effects and beautifully create the environment for virtual warfare training. The games played in the anti-gravity room are somewhat like paintball on steroids and put the Quidditch game shown off in the Harry Potter series look completely unimpressive. There are extremely striking stylized shots of swarming alien ships, simulated battle sequences, and a grand finale played out by Ender as if he were a skilled conductor of a symphony.
Like the The Hunger Games, this film also uses the far-fetched premise that children are the only hope to fight wars created by adults. The movie raises issues about tolerance, compassion, morality, responsibility, and surviving under incredible pressure. Although the theme of children defending the world is very over the top, it actually does work in Ender’s Game and quite nicely. But one has to wonder if the main characters were older (at least in their twenties) would the film have been more believable. One just has to assume that the tale is being told as close as possible to the written version.
One of the charms of Ender’s Game is that the hero is not at all your stereotypical teen heartthrob. Instead he is a skinny, scrawny, gangly adolescent with over-sized pretty blue eyes. Asa Butterfield was perfect for the role of the unassuming most non-threatening looking kid that would never bring military commando to anyone’s mind. Butterfield manages an intense stare and delivers dialogue one would expect from an adult with strength and confidence making his character very convincing. The supporting cast is also made up of unique youngsters that don’t fit the Hollywood hero mold and each actor holds their own on the screen with sincerity that will make you root for each one.
Ender’s Game moves swiftly and manages to keep the audience engaged, as the truth about hidden agendas and the war are finally revealed with an unexpected twist at the end, one that brings the storyline full circle. So it’s “game on” at the box office this holiday season for this eye catching expensively made teen space odyssey. It will be interesting to see if it’s “game over” at this point or if Ender’s Game will continue on with a sequel that hopefully will be even better than the first installment.
ENDER’S GAME is set to hit 2D and IMAX theaters on November 1, 2013