December 8, 2013
"Ender's Game" is a science-fiction film about kids being recruited to be soldiers to fight aliens who threaten to destroy humanity. Andrew Wiggin (nicknamed Ender) was the youngest of three siblings, an elder brother Peter who hates him and a sister Valentine who is very devoted to him. Ender was recruited by Coronel Graff when he was observed to have the requisite temperament and leadership potential. He defied all the odds stacked against him by his wits and cunning, and finally being able to successfully destroy his targets in the ultimate simulation test. But he finds out that he has done more than the game he thought he was playing.
Lead star Asa Butterfield has grown up taller since his role two years ago in the Oscar-nominated film Hugo under Martin Scorsese. It is impressive that he has these two big films in a row, both with him playing the title role. He is obviously older than the book Ender (by 10 years!), but he was still able to show the vulnerability of this character underneath his military tactical genius.
The rest of the cast are an impressive mix of Academy-Award winning or nominated actors. Harrison Ford (nominated for Witness in 1986) energetically plays gruff Coronel Graff. Viola Davis (nominated for The Help in 2011) plays Graff's assistant Maj. Gwen Anderson. Hailee Steinfeld (nominated for True Grit in 2010) plays Ender's training pal Petra. Abigail Breslin (nominated for Little Miss Sunshine in 2006) plays Ender's loving sister Valentine. And finally Ben Kingsley (won for Gandhi in 1982) plays Mazer Rackham, savior of the human race in the second alien attack, who also became Ender's mentor.
This film is based on the first novel of what would be a series of five books by Orson Scott Card, aimed for the teenage-young adult crowd. The book contained a lot of psychological analysis of children and violence that underlie the action, which the movie cannot possibly completely convey.
The book also had much younger characters than what was shown onscreen, like Ender was supposed to have been six years old only. The film nevertheless was a faithful enough adaptation, albeit rushed in parts in the name of cinematic license. It was able to bring to life the action in the training hall and the zero-gravity simulation rooms that would of course rely on the reader's imagination in the book.
The film's casting of short and hook-nosed Moises Arias as Bonzo Madrid is also puzzling, since the book describes Ender's tormentor in Battle School to be "tall and slender, with beautiful black eyes and slender lips that hinted at refinement." Arias is nothing like that physically at all, but the contrast of his Bonzo with Asa's Ender was strikingly ironic.
I found it strange that a movie about a devastating alien race never actually shows anything scary about these monsters or what they were supposed to have destroyed on Earth in the past. Instead we see a seemingly gentle and graceful leaf-like insect creature, so as the audience, we are not completely convinced about Ender's mission or Graff's true intentions.
So, "Ender's Game" is good enough as a sci-fi movie with young adult characters in the lead. For me though, the whole film, even with its spectacular special effects, feels strangely generic, and an amalgam of various similar movies in the past. Maybe I am just not its proper target demographic. 6/10.