Based on the famed story of young soldiers pushed to their limits to pursue an enemy that the don’t fully understand has been brought to life by director Gavin Hood. A story steeped in moral conundrums of what it means to fight for your government, and what that says about us as a society is a rather thought provoking premise. The film stars young Asa Butterfield as Andrew “Ender” Wiggin on his pursuit to answer questions that someone his age should never have to consider.
The film starts off with Ender being put through the ringer as a young kid in school by his peers. He seemingly has few friends and suffers at the wrath of a bully. Fighting back comes to Ender surprisingly naturally and he makes a choice to take on this bully for strategic reasons. This decision and many others are monitored and examined by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis). Graff seems to have a bit of an obsession with Ender and for good reason. The Colonel sees Ender as the best hope for the possible future invasion of the Formics, an alien race that attacked the Earth in the past. The military has decided that child soldiers are their best bet due to their ability to absorb information. After his “strategic choice,” Wiggin is rushed off to the famous international battle school. This is where the story goes from rather run of the mill to a full scale sci-fi flick.
After a few sequences with getting acclimated to space and meeting his peers we watch Ender get promoted, develop as a formidable strategic genius, and become the leader he was always thought to be. Colonel Graff pushes Ender to the brink to mold him in the proper image. Their father and son dynamic is rather obvious but still endearing. As Ender goes about advancing his career he is met with similar hostile kids as he has dealt with in the past. Always a strategist first and a brute second, Ender is able to talk his way out of most things. Asa Butterfield does a great job in making you believe that Ender Wiggin is a full character.
While Asa Butterfield did moderately well here, lacking on some moments of needed emotion, that can not be said for some of his actor counterparts. Harrison Ford absolutely phoned in his performance here. Viola Davis, for her small role, was serviceable. She was able to ask the “why” questions that the audience could connect with. Frankly, an actress of Davis’ caliber was rather wasted here. Hailee Steinfeld who played Petra Arkanian, Ender’s teammate and slight romantic interest, had little to nothing to grab onto here. I would categorize her as a wasted talent here as well. One of the few stand outs was Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham, a pilot who saved Earth from the Formics’ first invasion. While he was over the top in his performance to a degree he made the time memorable in a good way. The film is largely dull, Kingsley adds a spice the moment he is introduced. The stakes in this movie are meant to feel high, they don’t. As we build ever closer to the final battle with the Formics I just found myself not caring. There are very few moments of tension if at all. The robotic and calculating nature of Ender’s personality seems to permeate the entire cast. Everyone seems too busy secretly plotting that they forgot to emote. Pensive looks are simply not enough for a movie like this. One tremendous upside to the movie is the way its presented. The movie looks beautiful. The color palette and sweeping shots of space battles were very fun. Sadly this movie was not presented in 3D, which is a real shame because it would have greatly benefited from that treatment. At the end of the day, Ender’s Game is passable treatment to a famed story. Little to no stakes, decent acting performances, and great visuals but ultimately a hollow movie going experience.
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