Although the film might seem a tad formulaic and the ending a bit of a letdown, Ender’s Game is visually stunning, features an engaging plot, and is well-worth taking the time to watch. The story manages to keep the audience hooked, but the ending feels a bit like a letdown after all the time spent building the characters and rich plot.
Based on Orson Scott Card’s award-winning 1985 novel, the film adaptation was directed by Gavin Hood (who also handled writing chores) and stars Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, and Ben Kingsley.
The film takes place fifty years after the 2086 invasion of the alien species the Formics – who were defeated by the sacrifice of Earth’s greatest hero Mazer Rackham. Rackham flew his fighter jet into the main Formic spacecraft, and his legend is told to every child in school. Earth is preparing for the Formics return and it is believed only a child (or teenager) will have the ability to coordinate all the forces to defeat the aliens.
Andrew Ender Wiggin (Butterfield) is the promising cadet Colonel Hyrum Graff (Ford) believes is the person they have been searching for to lead the fleet and end the alien threat. Graff is not above manipulating Ender to push the young cadet and test if the boy will break from the stress and isolation. Major Gwen Anderson (Davis) doubts Ender can take the pressure and also questions his abilities due to the fact Ender’s brother washed out of the program due to his violent temper and Ender’s sister failed due to not being able to control her emotions.
Against Anderson’s advice, Graff pushes Ender through Battle School where he praises him in front of other cadets; raises him through the ranks quickly to create tension with other students; and eventually gives Ender his own team to coordinate in the games. The games are designed for the cadets to compete against each other in teams. Ender rises to each challenge and manages to befriend Petra Arkanian (Steinfeld) and other members of his team despite Graff’s tactics. Ender also has to deal with the emotional consequences of a fight he has with another cadet that leaves the boy seriously injured.
Again, Graff pushes the cadet and eventually takes him to the final part of the training at a secret base near the Formic home world. At the colony, Ender’s skills are honed by a surprise trainer, and he is given control of all the teams to compete in an even larger training game. The new game is designed to see if Ender will be the leader Graff thinks he is and sees Ender leading his team on an invasion of the simulated Formic planet.
I have not read the Card’s novel so I can’t speak to how closely the movie follows the book. Hood does a great job in the director’s chair and creates a futuristic world that truly helps the audience escape into the story and suspend belief. The visual effects are extremely impressive, but also seem functional and believable to the story. Hood keeps the film moving at a pace that gives the audience time to process all that is happening on the screen, and the epic feel of the story. At times, the pace does seem to drag to a crawl, but the characters are rich enough to keep the audience interested. Unfortunately, all the slow building of character and plot also make the ending feel like a complete waste of time instead of inspiring and the next step in something greater to come.
As Ender, Butterfield creates a very complex character. Ender is a mixture of confidence and doubt. He knows he has the abilities to get the job done, but seems to be terrified to make a mistake. He also is frightened to discover that he is capable of the kind of violence that washed his brother out of the program. Hood gives the audience a glimpse of Ender’s violence in an early confrontation with a student at school and then a great display in the fight at Battle School. At the same time, Ender tries to avoid the fight, and is troubled by how he lost control. Butterfield makes the character feel very real – which helps the twist towards the end really matter.
The film also benefits from the talents of Ford, Davis and Kingsley. The three veteran actors are perfect for their roles with Ford walking a fine line between heartless commander and someone doing what he thinks will save his planet.
Ender’s Game is the kind of sci-fi film that was made for Blu-ray’s crystal clear picture and the visual effects really pop off the screen. The Blu-ray comes loaded with bonus material that fans of the film will enjoy and go into great detail of the film’s very long journey to the screen. There are also deleted and extended scenes.
While it might not live up to the legacy of the Card’s novel, Ender’s Game manages to keep the audience entertained and raise some questions along the way. The film has the ability to hold the audience from the very start and leave you talking about it long after the credits roll.