Review: Ender's Game
Following an alien attack, militaries on Earth join forces in order to prevent a future invasion, recruiting children to groom to protect the planet. The shy and cerebral Ender Wiggin is among the young cadets who are sent to a space station to endure physical and mental training. Ender faces the pressure of his superiors, the jealousy of his colleagues, and the responsibility to his family and friends.
Asa Butterfield is the new young star, while Harrison Ford plays his typical hard-nosed Colonel and recruiter. Viola Davis is his colleague, while Ben Kingsley shows up later and does typical eerie Ben Kingsley things. Hailee Steinfeld is a fellow recruit, while Abigail Breslin plays Ender’s fretful sister. There is also a diverse crew of young soldiers joining the excitement, because in the future, there is diversity.
For all the moving parts, characters, and subplot that makes up Ender’s Game, it’s so familiar in tone, theme, and story that it eventually settles nicely into being comfort watching. In the future, a conflicted yet bright child is thrust into peril and duty by domineering adults, one of many youngsters who are tested and trained and raised as soldiers. It helps if you are emotionless, too.
Ender Wiggin fits the bill. Pale-faced, big-eyed, and slight of build, he is torn between pride and fear. His talents at strategic and virtual tests gain the attention and support of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), a brash leader with an ends-justify-the-means type of attitude and a support of physical punishment.
Graff, along with his underling Major Anderson (Viola Davis), recruit Wiggin, much to the surprise of his doting parents, concerned sister, and abusive older brother. Sent into space to train in zero gravity and cut off from communication on Earth, Wiggin is a young male version of Katniss Everdeen: a child forced to leave behind a family and become an adult, dealing in life-or-death affairs.
It’s easy to see The Hunger Games parallels, and that’s not the only film. It’s hard not to recall Independence Day when we’re treated to flashbacks and archival footage of an alien attack that is thwarted by a Russell Casse-type hero who crashes his plane into an hovering ship. It’s all safe though, and familiar, closer to a PG rating than it is an R, finely-executed.
Still, for all its formulaic proceedings, it’s not without a couple fascinating innovations. Zero gravity fight sequences, set inside a massive glass cube floating in space with a brilliant view of Earth, are visual fun is floating and lasers. Another test for Ender is a video game that locks into his mind, and his crusades in this virtual world are surprisingly dark and engaging.
The rest proceeds predictably, with a late turn that, even if you haven’t read the 1985 novel on which the film is based, is utterly telegraphed. Ford and Ben Kingsley play familiar stereotypes, and the woman in the film are all underutilized. Then again, the film is a pilot, looking to spawn sequels and make its pop culture mark. Visually satisfying and emotionally safe, Ender’s Game is as advertised.
Should You See It?
With the second installment of The Hunger Games around the corner, this one can wait – unless you’re in the mood for some wannabe-epic IMAX frivolity.