Based on Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel of the same name, Ender’s Game is an intriguing and entertaining amalgam of Full Metal Jacket-lite, eye-popping special effects, modern day military analysis, and a grizzled, growling Harrison Ford to keep the troops in order.
Article by Jamie C.
And here we literally mean troops, as kids are plucked practically from birth to be recruited as military soldiers to defeat a race of supposedly hostile aliens called the Formics who attacked Earth years before.
Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield) is the most gifted of the new recruits, strategically smart, adroitly tactical, gifted with a finely honed, military mind, occasionally cold and emotionally detached, prone to explosive and unexpected fits of violence – and therefore an ideal candidate for annihilating the mutant species.
Enter Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford, playing Colonel Graff, gruff and dogged, barking orders at the fledglings at Battle School and alienating Ender through a series of tough, humiliating exercises that make him the at-first universally loathed social pariah of the group but the eventually accepted leader and hero.
The training scenes in the Battle Room – in which teams compete against each other in a spherical, zero gravity playground – are impressively staged, utilizing first-class special effects wizardry for sequences that are visually gorgeous and gracefully balletic. In fact, the special effects overall are fantastic, the main stumbling block of the film adaption’s previous incarnations being FX technology which, until now, wouldn’t do the movie justice.
One of the other concerns in Ender’s Game evolution from book to screen was the novel’s conceit of justifying – even encouraging – violence, particularly amongst kids. This has become ever more prevalent of late, due to the rise in popularity of The Hunger Games, but the theme itself isn’t all that new – as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies will testify.
There are flashes of violence here, but director Gavin Hood keeps them relatively restrained (it’s a 12A, after all), but they serve to emphasise the modus operandi of Graff’s start-a-war-to-prevent-a-war mantra – and why Ender was chosen to bring the alien attackers to extinction.
Image by RA.AZ
The acting overall is good, with Butterfield combining just the right elements of child-like vulnerability and simmering aggression, and Ford an imposing authority figure with occasional glimpses of humanity and charisma behind the steely exterior. Even Ben Kingsley pops up in the third act to lend his own inimitable gravitas as the war hero, Mazer Rackham, who last defeated the alien invaders.
In fact, Ender is something of a complex character, torn between family and future, questioning his role in the academy, personally conflicted, and wrestling with his duty to the bigger cause and the wider, moral implications of his actions.
But perhaps it’s unnecessary to read too much into it, though it does offer a nicely timed parable and cinematic social commentary on the US of A’s relentless stance of manufacturing wars and destroying anything and everything perceived as the enemy.
It’s a skilful mix that blends elements of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Space Invaders and The Matrix to create a satisfying, occasionally thought-provoking movie.
An indictment of America’s incessant gung-ho war-mongering or simply an enjoyable children’s film? Who cares? Either way, it’s good fun.
Featured Image: Trailer Screenshot