Ender’s Game Review

The Plot:

In the aftermath of a devastating alien attack that almost destroyed mankind, humanity places its hope in children, training them to be the next generation of ultimate warriors. Ender Wiggin is a brilliant cadet who just might prove to be the one leader capable of leading this new army into a battle to determine the future of the Earth.

The Good:

It’s taken many years for Orson Scott Card’s popular sci-fi novel to find its way onto the big screen, but it was definitely worth the wait. Ender’s Game is a well-crafted combination of storytelling and polished special effects. Director Gavin Hood manages to give the film a distinctive futuristic look and deserves special credit for finding inventive ways to bring computer based elements of the original story to life on screen.

The film’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its unique action sequences, in particular the zero gravity battle room where Ender and his fellow recruits train. Situated in a giant translucent sphere in the middle of a space station orbiting high above the Earth at the edge of space, it’s simply unlike anything you’ve seen before. It may sound like cliché praise, but in this case it’s actually true. There really is something beautiful and balletic about watching Ender lead his diminutive army in zero gravity war games. It’s the equivalent of watching Harry Potter first grab hold of a broom to start playing Quidditch.

Of course, action adventures with pubescent heroes often fail to capture the imaginations of more mature audiences because their protagonists are simply too irritating. Thankfully Ender’s Game boasts an impressive array of watchable young stars, led by Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld. Butterfield gives Ender a genuine spirit of ruthless cunning that commands much more respect than his lithe physique would suggest. Hailee Steinfeld also manages to give Ender a helpful training partner audiences will for once actually like not loath.

It’s a refreshing relief that the film has the confidence to take itself seriously and that Ender doesn’t at any time find himself unnecessarily stuck with any kind of bumbling comic relief sidekick. There are no infuriatingly pointless and painfully unfunny characters which so easily render film like this instantly unwatchable.

As for the adults, Harrison Ford seems reinvigorated in his role as Colonel Graff, the military commander determined to harden his young recruits into soldiers whatever the cost. It’s a role that harnesses Ford’s naturally gravel toned grit and gruff surliness well. Ford helps sets a serious tone for the film which makes it more accessible by far for grown up audiences. The background presence of award winning talents like Viola Davis and Sir Ben Kingsley also give the film a little more dramatic credibility.

The Bad:

Ender’s Game has many virtues but falls short of perfection in a number of obvious ways. Some of the obvious subtext about ‘child soldiers’ and the true cost of war is perhaps dealt with a little heavy handily. For example, Ender’s occasional flashes of self-doubt and anxiety over giving into his more violent impulses might be a necessary part of adding depth to the character but can feel a little obvious and superficial.

Likewise the film’s bug like alien adversaries are pretty much a faceless generic threat. They’re never developed as anything other than a swarming mass of evil spaceships. Although undoubtedly that is a deliberate decision and part of the film’s commentary about the ambiguous morality of warfare, nevertheless it does rob the film of certain opportunities as well.

The film builds up some exciting early momentum but in truth it doesn’t quite manage to fully deliver and falters a little at it’s very final stages, perhaps leaving it just a little too late to cram in some last minute plot complexities.

The Ugly Truth:

Ender’s Game avoids many of the obvious and most irritating pitfalls of a fantasy adventure built around a young boy coming to terms with his role as the ‘chosen one’. The film also has enough originality and unique visuals to set it instantly apart from countless other doomed franchises. Ender’s Game is worth seeing on the big screen for the zero gravity sequences and climatic space battles alone, it is also easily one of the best recent adaptations of classic science fiction.

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