Orson Scott Card is a pigheaded loser who has spoken out against gay marriage and has compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. Hey, Orson: Go have an asshole tea party with Mel Gibson and Woody Allen!
Still, Ender’s Game and its sequels are prophetic and intuitive when it comes to modern technology.
The story has a protagonist named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a genius boy who is a master of futuristic video games and strategies. He’s targeted by a colonel (crusty, craggy Harrison Ford) as the savior of the human race—somebody who can save Earth from a second attack by an alien insect species called the Formics.
Ender enters a training program in which he is secretly fast-tracked to the point where he’s commanding his own ragtag group of teens, including True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld, through elaborate exercises. One involves a zero-gravity room in which they play laser tag with paralyzing rays; another is a large video game featuring alien-annihilation scenarios.
The movie has some impressive special effects and some great ideas at its core. What it doesn’t have is an engaging performance by its central actor: Butterfield just doesn’t cut it as Ender, as he opts mostly for a quiet intensity that results in boring stretches. Steinfeld acts circles around him.
Something about this movie feels vastly abbreviated. I can’t help but think this franchise would’ve fared better as a series or miniseries. The Ender’s Game finale feels tacked on, super-condensed and rushed. Ender is required to switch emotional modes in a way that is too quick; it feels false.
Card’s “One who can save us all!” premise, with its biblical ramifications, acted as a prelude to the Harry Potter series and The Matrix series. The master-gamer aspect of Ender was conceptualized in a book that was published in 1985, when modern man was just saying goodbye to Colecovision and ushering in the age of Nintendo. The first Playstation was nearly a decade away. In other words, Ender’s Game was a masterfully intuitive novel.
Therefore, it’s a shame that director Gavin Hood has delivered such a muddled effort. The movie, while visually breathtaking at times, is a flat, joyless affair. I couldn’t help but think of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, and how much fun that was. Instead, Ender’s Game has a lot of moping and routine teen angst.
Ford is actually my favorite aspect of the movie. He manages to mix in occasional warm and funny moments as the determined engineer of Ender’s fate. Watching him in Ender’s, I found myself rooting for a deal with J.J. Abrams to have Ford reprise his Star Wars role. His work here could act as a nice bridge back to that franchise.
On the confusing side, Viola Davis is on hand as Major Gwen Anderson; she’s some sort of counselor/protector of Ender who is constantly at Ford’s side, telling him his plan sucks. I got the feeling Hood and Davis weren’t quite sure about the arc for this character; she virtually disappears for long stretches of the film.
There’s some barracks-bullying involving a character named Bonzo (Moises Arias) that doesn’t feel fully realized. I got the impression that there should’ve been more to this character’s story.
Ender’s Game is not a bad movie. It has many respectable aspects, but it is marbled with dullness. It’s supposed to be the start of a franchise—but I have a feeling that the films may end here for now.
Ender’s Game is playing at theaters across the valley.