Sci-fi lockbuster “Ender’s Game” lurched into treacherous territory as a novel turned film. Though this category is densely populated, it is also harshly critiqued and rarely perfected. While “Ender’s Game” isn’t the most revolutionary movie of late, it manages to entertain, employs computer animation appropriately, and remains reasonably faithful to the book. This is certainly a film to catch in the theater whether you’ve read the novel or you’re an Ender’s Game virgin.
Adapted from Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel of the same name, “Ender’s Game” follows a young boy named Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield). The film opens with a quick recap: in 2086 a race of bug-like aliens, the Formics, attacked earth. Pilot Mazer Rackham single-handedly halted the invasion. Flash forward to the present, where the film picks up with Ender at a military school. From the onset of the film, Ender exhibits a proficiency and intuition which sets him apart from his peers. Small, skinny and unassuming, Asa Butterfield portrays the slightly cocky yet vulnerable prodigy perfectly.
Initially Ender believes his military training is over. However the watchful eyes of Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) of the International Fleet hint otherwise. During a brief stint at home the audience is offered a brief glimpse into life on earth. Ender’s two older siblings, Valentine (Abigail Breslin) and Peter (Jimmy Pinchak), were refused Battle School attendance for different reasons. Peter for his radical violence, Valentine for her compassion.
Not surprisingly, Col. Hyrum visits Ender on earth and requests his presence at Battle School in space. Ender, after some convincing, accepts. Battle School consists of various training exercises and war games. As expected, Ender progresses significantly faster than his peers, rising to a squad leader in the battle games. He advances to commander of Dragon Army, and annihilates his teammates. From here he and the misfit band which comprise the Dragons move to the asteroid Eros, where the International Fleet hold a base. They continue with increasingly advanced training at Command School.
Yet while Ender appears confident, composed and quick-witted, he simultaneously displays a more vulnerable side. During the film he gets into two fights, both times severely wounding his adversaries. He also uncovers a mind-game on his tablet. He envisions his sister and brother in the game, and performs actions which shock his attentive International Fleet superiors.
What make the “Ender’s Game” such a sci-fi epic are humanization, setting, and the shocking finale. To avoid spoilers, the end won’t be discussed, but suffice it to say if you haven’t read the novel there’s an enormous twist. At Battle School children use tablets for education and leisure, which isn’t far from the current reality. Ender’s emotional struggles as he navigates fleet school and teenage years (arguably the more challenging of the two), are well-captured. As the film progresses, he questions the origin and nature of his adversaries, the Formics. This further helps express the vulnerability of teens and young adults educated in war.
Graphically speaking, “Ender’s Game” is beautiful. Don’t expect a “Gravity” experience, but think more along the lines of “Prometheus.” The gorgeous visuals establish the surroundings and don’t appear cartoony like “Avatar.” Similarly, the message of “Ender’s Game” is compelling enough to encourage discussion, though not nearly as thought-provoking as “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Blade Runner.” It is also subtle, and doesn’t beat you over the head.
“Ender’s Game” remains relatively devoid of shortcomings, though there are a few. The narrative, as previously mentioned, isn’t revolutionary. Admittedly, the movie is a tad predictable in spots, but acting and character depth help compensate for occasional stale spots. Additionally, there are several changes to the plot and some aspects of the novel were glanced over in the conversion process. Unless you’re a purist, these won’t bother you greatly. The story remains respectably loyal to the print counterpart. Overall, “Ender’s Game” delivers an epic sci-fi story which demands a big-screen viewing with its star-studded cast, visual candy, and stimulating plot.