The novel Ender’s Game was first published in 1985 after the short story was published in 1977. It is a military science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card and spawned many sequel novels. It is set in the future, after mankind has faced the Buggers or Formics, an insectoid alien species. To prepare for the third conflict, children are being trained as tactical military commanders. I welcome anyone who has read the novel (s) to respond to this and let me know if this movie sticks close to the book or interprets it a little more loosely. It seems there is an entire political subplot involving Ender’s siblings that was not involved in the movie at all. I did try reading the book a few years ago, but found it boring and stopped. Maybe I’ll pick it up again?
In this movie, Ender Wiggin is at a school being trained in various war games. He’s a “third” on a planet where couples are only allowed two students, so he is teased for that. He’s got an older brother and an older sister. He’s close with his sister, but really seems to loathe and fear his brother. Every student has an electronic monitor attached, and one day Ender bests an older boy in a simulation, then gets his monitor removed (implying that he is flunking out), then gets in a fight with the bully. He outsmarts him and beats him savagely. Colonel Graff and Major Anderson come to his house to ask about it. He states he kept beating him once he was down to prevent all further attacks. With this explanation, they decide he will be a brilliant military tactician and whisk him away to “battle school”, where he is assigned to a squad, excels, then gets moved to another squad, excels (mainly in their zero-G laser tag, but also at weird little mind games), beats another kid basically to death, tries to quit, they bring in his sister to convince him to stay, then he gets promoted again, then goes to “command school” where he has to deal with Ben Kingsley as a Maori.
If you can get past the general idea that the military in the future will be trusting children to run all operations, and you can get past the fact that we are hunting down a species that seems to have left us alone for a great many years, and you can get past the fact that there is very little action (except for in simulations), and you can get past the fact that there is zero fun in this movie (it’s really grim and somber – I get the that the tone is morose, but jeez, it’s still a sci-fi movie), you may enjoy it. I did not - it's such a downer.
South African director Gavin Hood directed Tsotsi, Rendition, and the excitingly terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This movie looks great, the effects are beautiful to look at, and the acting is very impressive. It’s directed very well, and I would be curious to see if they continue with some of the other books and storylines. This movie does finish very open-ended.
- I thought that Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin (the creepy kid with the big eyes from Hugo) does a good job carrying this movie. He is in virtually every scene, except for the two or three that are Harrison Ford and Viola Davis arguing. Asa has a very emotive face, and you believe that this small kid really does want to do right, and excel at the tasks he is given. However, when he goes dark and threatening – you really believe that as well.
- Harrison Ford plays Harrison Ford in space. He plays Colonel Graff who recruits Ender and helps to train these kids. He’s gruff and serious and doesn’t allow them to be children, just keeps treating them as soldiers. He does get to float horizontally for one scene, but even that just seems to annoy him.
- Hailee Steinfeld, who was very impressive in True Grit plays Petra Arkanian, Ender’s friend in Battle School. She helps train him in the zero-G laser tag area, and he keeps her on his squad moving forward. She’s good, but doesn’t have much to do.
- Abigail Breslin plays the “too-emotional-for-battle-school” Valentine Wiggin, who Ender is very close to, and continues to try to email while at school. She seems to be the one who keeps him emotionally stable, or tries to.
- Ben Kingsley expands his resume to include another ethnicity as he plays the half-Maori Mazer Rackham. He’s the legendary commander that all the children have learned about and hope to emulate. He’s all business, and carries off the accent pretty plausibly. But hey, he’s Sir Ben Kingsley, of course he’s going to be good.
- Viola Davis plays the “too-emotionally attached to the children” Major Anderson who continually argues with Colonel Graff about the practices they are using on these children. Really, that discussion was interesting, and I was curious to see more, but I think that is one of those things that is more detailed in the book.
- Ender’s squad of battle-ready kids are all played by pretty established kid actors including Aramis Knight (Bean), Suraj Partha (Alai), Khylin Rhambo (Dink) and Moises Arias (as the one Ender basically kills, Bonzo). They are all very capable, and very multi-ethnic, which I enjoyed – and I am curious if that was part of the book too? Also - I bet the different squads, symbols, and names are further developed in the book as well...maybe I should read it.
- English actor Nonso Anozie plays Sergeant Dap and previously worked with Asa Butterfield in Nanny McPhee Returns. He’s also been in RocknRolla, New Conan, The Grey, Game of Thrones, and most recently on TV in the new Dracula. He’s very big and very intimidating, bossing around Ender and his group, telling Ender that he will never salute Ender – until, of course, what seemed to be almost the next scene when Ender was promoted, and Dap saluted him. That happened too quick so all the emotional connection to it was lost. In any case, this dude is awesome - but check out Dracula to see him. Or go back and re-watch Game of Thrones to see the mother of dragons lock him in his own empty vault.
Spoiler alert here – I’m about to discuss the end. The whole time Ender and his gang of kid-strategists have been battling the Formics in these simulations. The upper level guys tell Ender he has one more simulation to ‘graduate’. He takes his squad, and attacks the Formic home planet, completely destroying it, and the Formic race. But then the simulation continues to run and the children are forced to watch the planet (and race) die. At this point Ender realizes it was real – that he really did just commit genocide. He runs off, completely broken – then realizes that a Formic queen has been hiding on the planet they are based on, and communicating with him telepathically (why didn’t she get the message through before he wiped out her race?). He goes to see her, she wipes away one of his tears (I did love that moment), gives him a Formic queen egg, and he takes off through the galaxy, looking for a safe home for them. So I suppose, the last minute or two of this movie is hopeful, after they spent two hours turning this smart little kid into a brutal genocidal maniac. That is probably the point, to discuss the morals of war – but you know what? That’s actually not why I go to the movies, I’d rather be entertained, not bummed out.
5 out of 10. It's well-acted, well-directed, and overall really well put together. It's just not my cup of tea. It didn’t make me want to pick up the book again, but maybe look into the graphic novel/comic book version? This movie is what would happen if you took Starship Troopers, but reduced the age of the main cast by half, replaced Michael Ironside with Harrison Ford, took out all but one of the action sequences, and removed all the sense of fun and adventure. Gained points for the Formic design, when you finally get to see a Formic – she was stunning. Lost points for the constant gloom. I mean seriously, there is no fun in this movie. I think the only time Ender smiles is during laser tag, when he’s blasting the hell out of the other kids. Oh, and when he’s watching Harrison Ford float horizontally, but that kinda cracked me up too – there’s always functioning gravity on the Millenium Falcon.
Bonus Video 1: Starship Troopers – yep, just go watch this instead.
Bonus Video 2: The Fugitive – the best Harrison Ford movie that does not have the words Indiana and/or Star Wars in the title.
Bonus Video 3: The 2013 San Diego Comic-Con Ender's Game Panel