by Adam Riske
Ender’s Game is not a complete success, but I admire its balls. That's a weird thing to say, but I can’t think of another way of saying it. This movie is thumbing its nose at several things including the military’s potential ability to hive evil group-think behavior, children who are deemed “gifted” before they’ve done anything and, most importantly video game culture. I suspect kids going into the movie, who are unaware of the book’s trajectory, will find themselves in the uncomfortable position that many teens and college-age adults found themselves in during Spring Breakers. I never thought I’d say that about Ender’s Game, but it’s asking big questions of its young target audience with the goal of making them uncomfortable. For that I commend the movie (or maybe more specifically, the story from the book; I’ll give credit to the movie because I haven’t read the book and can only speak to what I have seen on screen). The movie works.
42 earlier this year, Ford is having a strong 2013.
The rest of the performances are inconsistent. Viola Davis plays one of Ford’s colleagues, but she is wasted. Ben Kingsley also doesn’t have much to do and turns up for only the last 30 minutes. Most of the screen time is given to child actors who are actually pretty bad, with school play line readings and zero screen presence (the exception being maybe Hailee Steinfeld from the True Grit remake). The other main performance besides Ford is Asa Butterfield as Ender. Butterfield suffers the fate of most of his child co-stars, as he’s not the most interesting of actors. However, he is well-cast in this movie since Ender is meant to be sort of a meek wallflower that gets by on his calculating nature and his intelligence. He seems like a kid that asserts his aggression by playing a lot of violent video games and that is right for the character. He’s someone that is good at heart but with the capacity to be Michael Corleone in his efficiency and capacity for wrongdoing.
The direction by Gavin Hood (who also wrote the script) is solid, with the movie moving at a quick pace and the somewhat exciting action sequences always making spatial sense. I also thought the production design was interesting to look at, particularly a zero-gravity training chamber where the child soldiers conduct war games while floating in air and laser tagging each other. This is a step up for Hood from his last tentpole movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Ender’s Game was a real surprise. It's a movie that turns the “chosen one” trope on its head and has many worthwhile things to say to a target audience that I hope will ask their parents questions as they leave the theater. While it’s not a science fiction classic (like many would claim the book of being), the film adaptation of Ender’s Game is the type of intelligent science fiction that audiences should have the opportunity to see more often.