I want to start this review with that famous trailer voice-over, “In a world where…” Ender’s Game is one of those films that presents a perhaps not-so-far-off future, in a world where our planet has been invaded by hostile, unprovoked aliens bent on taking our world. But luckily during that invasion, all was not lost due to the kamikaze-style heroics of one fighter pilot named Mazer Rackham, who literally saved the world. The aliens left, but humanity was left with the fear that they would return, but this time Earthlings would be ready.
A kid named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one of a new generation literally born and bred to perhaps be the next Mazer Rackham. The powers-that-be fear the imminent return of the Formics, and have decided (rather cleverly I think) that kids are more apt to pick up new technologies, and are skilled at learning how to master games. War is basically a game, right? And if the kids are young enough, they may not have that morality filters that adults do. All you have to do is blow up the enemy, and, “Game over! Game over!”
Ender is plucked from his school after he defends himself from a bully. Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) was impressed that not only was he able to use his intellect before brawn to take down the bigger kid, but he even kicked him when he was already down, to prevent future attacks. Hm. The military likes that. As Ender shows that he has the right combo of smarts, leadership, and tactical skills, he is quickly moved up in ranks to Command School, where he and his posse of tweens practice more realistic war games in order to prep for the big show. But there is something that the military is not telling them….
I didn’t expect much from Ender’s Game. I had heard of the novel, as it has become a modern Young Adult sci-fi classic. And I had also heard of the more recent controversies with the book’s author, Orson Scott Card, who apparently reveals himself to be a douche every time he opens his mouth (I’m sure the movie studio has been pleading, “Don’t speak… please, don’t speak…”). The trailers showed what sort of looked like a space adventure for tots, so I found myself surprised at the dark undercurrent of the story. About halfway through, I thought to myself, “There is something not quite right with the way this is going…” By the end, which is surprisingly messed up, I was actually impressed that the story challenged the viewers. The actors, including teens Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin, as well as adults Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley, make the most of rather thin character development. But in the end, it’s the ideas in Ender’s Game that end up making the film watchable as something beyond the typical kiddie-adventure fare.