MOVIE REVIEW: Ender’s Game

By Paul Morales

How “Ender’s Game” ever worked as a book is beyond my capacity to understand. If you’re gathering from that statement that I’ve never read the book… well, you’re right. And those graduating in May 2014 might remember that I, as a rule, try to avoid reading the book before seeing the movie whenever possible. Reading the book first allows filmmakers to be lazy. But I’m not going to get on this soapbox. We’re here to talk about “Ender’s Game.”

“Ender’s Game,” from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” director Gavin Hood (don’t hold that against him, though) is one of the better movies of 2013. It’s not perfect, but it is a remarkable visual and visceral experience. It tells the story of a young boy named Ender Wiggins, whose tactical and creative mind puts him on track to become Commander of Earth’s entire space fleet. Apparently, Earth’s leadership has decided that children are going to save us from the return of an alien species called the Formics that attacked us more than 50 years ago. And that’s pretty much all you’ll ever know about why any of the events in this movie happen.

But this movie isn’t really concerned with the backstory of its narrative. That’s what books are for. This movie is, at its heart, a fantastic character examination. We’ll save Asa Butterfield, who plays Ender, for last. Let’s talk about his supporting cast first.

Harrison Ford (I’m not going to put a movie he’s done here; you should know who Harrison Ford is) is the perfect choice and potentially the only real choice to play Colonel Graff, the man primarily responsible for finding the one child who can succeed as Earth’s savior. Ford is as grumpy as a certain Disney dwarf and he really loves to point emphatically, but beyond the cantankerousness that has dogged him in his later years, he’s actually got the acting chops to make thinking of kids as tools and weapons and not children seem like a complicated, valid, even practically viable option in this extreme situation. He’s well balanced by Viola Davis (“The Help”) as Major Anderson, whose job seems to be monitoring and encouraging the mental health of the cadets – it’s never really specified in the film. Davis is no small presence in any room, and even as a subordinate officer to Colonel Graff, her heart and concern for Ender and the other children in the program pours out of the screen.

The children in the film fare less well than the adults do, but they’re not so bad as to derail the movie altogether. The real star of the film is Asa Butterfield (“Hugo”) who plays the titular character. Now, that might seem like it would go without saying, but at such a young age and given the fact that one of the most powerful characters in the movie views Ender as a weapon more than anything else, it would’ve been very easy for Ender to end up as little more than a prop with lines. Luckily, Butterfield is able to make Ender’s rise to leadership seem as self-motivated as it is manipulated by Graff and the program. A few moments in the script are clunky, so Butterfield is somewhat limited in terms of his portrayal of Ender. He’s the emotional foundation of the film, and he’s able to carry that weight with confidence and skill. He doesn’t make it look effortless, but he doesn’t stumble under the pressure either.

Along with Butterfield, Davis, and Ford (I’m not even going to talk about Ben Kingsley, who is way more wasted in “Ender’s Game” than he could have ever hoped to be in Iron Man 3), the other star of this film is its visuals. No expense was spared in the creation of Ender’s universe, and when his trainer says “photo-real simulations,” he’s not kidding. The battle scenes are masterfully realized, and Gavin Hood choreographs and shoots them with the grace of a seasoned action director and the smarts of a man who knows that the main audience for “Ender’s Game” is probably going to be under 17.

The biggest mistake of the film is its ending, which feels hurried and doesn’t give the audience, or Ender for that matter, time and space to really absorb and reflect on its amazing and somewhat disturbing climax. The filmmakers would have done better to trust the audience with a slightly longer attention span, developing the emotions and thoughts that went into the closing moments of “Ender’s Game” with as much care as they did the rest of the film. It feels more like an epilogue, or potentially the start of another movie (is “Ender’s Game” the first book in a series? I don’t know. That’s no excuse for failing to end the movie well, though) than it does the actual end of a film.

Overall, the themes, performances and visuals of “Ender’s Game” will stick with me so much longer than its ending or its less impressive performances. “Ender’s Game” is a great example of how to take source material and adapt it into a film that is powerful, captivating, and completely entertaining on its own. Finally, it’s important to mention that this is a movie that must be seen in theaters. It’s showing at Carmike Cinemas in Fort Wayne right now. Call 260-432-2647 or check www.carmike.com for show times. You won’t be disappointed.

Score: 8.5 Great