Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Based on the much-loved book by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game is a film bursting with ideas and metaphors. It also serves as a discussion on certain moral dilemmas, but it all doesn’t quite gel together as well as it should.
Asa Butterfield stars as Ender Wiggin, a boy-genius who is recruited by Harrison Ford’s Colonel Graff to attend Battle School, an outer-space training facility. This facility has been created to train talented young individuals to defeat the upcoming threat of Formics (a.k.a. Buggers), alien bug-types that are said to be preparing their third attack on Earth. Graff sees that Ender has the capacity to lead an army, and ensures that the strict training regime tests the boy’s limits. The film charts Ender’s rise through the ranks. He’s certainly a gifted child; thinking differently to the other children and pushing himself to succeed at every opportunity. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to make friends and is often bullied for being different.
After great turns in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Hugo, Asa Butterfield continues to cement his reputation as one of the best child-actors around. He gives a great performance here, convincing as an intense boy who is constantly picked on; but who never feels sorry for himself. Butterfield gives the character a believable fighting spirit, ensuring that we’re with him every step of the way.
The rest of the cast is decent. Ford does a good job as a Colonel worried more about the impending war than anything else, Viola Davis is good as his second in command, and the large cast of children are impressive as various classmates with roles to play in Ender’s character growth. Ben Kingsley appears late in the game, giving an amusing interpretation of a Maori.
The “training” involves various forms of psychological mind games (fantastic video-game style “puzzles” that tap into Ender’s subconscious) and simulated battles in a giant zero-gravity room. These sequences are indeed entertaining and the visual effects are quite impressive, but they inevitably become tiresome. In fact, the film’s major problem lies in the lack of momentum that creeps up over the proceedings. Ender rises up the training ranks, we’re drip fed information about this looming threat and there’s a Lord of the Flies type of metaphor that is nailed home, but the overall story arc seems to barely move forward.
Those that have read the novel may disagree, but the plot unfolds in a way that doesn’t quite warrant the admirable wallop the ending hits with. There are moments throughout that hint at the impending moral predicament, but your left almost confounded by the time the impressive – yet jarring – finale rolls around.
Director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) delivers a film that deserves kudos for infusing brains and drama into what could have easily been an overabundance of visual effects. The film has moments of brilliance and it works beautifully on a technical level, but Ender’s Game works more as the first chapter of a much bigger story – not quite as a stand-alone film. Fingers crossed we’ll be able to visit this world again.
THE REEL WORD: 7/10