Movie #3: Ender’s Game

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I’m the first to admit that I did not love Orson Scott Card’s seminal sci-fi novel on which this movie was based. It was well-written, but I didn’t enjoy the brutal bullying and could never buy into how “mature” these pre-teen characters were supposed to be. The story of Ender Wiggin begins with Earth having suffered a near-defeat by an alien invasion. After narrow escape from annihilation, the military powers-that-be decide that the only people capable of defending the planet are children, because only their minds have the agility to handle complex battle strategy. As a result, they choose the most intelligent children and recruit them to an intense boot camp where they are forced to compete with each other in battle simulations to groom the best for the real thing. When young Ender is recruited, he proves to be the brightest of all and Earth’s hopes for victory hang on him. On one hand, it was great that they had to abbreviate a lot of the long battle-school experiences where he was bullied and beaten down to fit the movie length. I never understood why these children would resort to thuggish violence to eliminate their opponents (who are other children!), and it was hard to endure. Fortunately, in the movie everything happens too quickly to sink in. While Ender gets picked on, it doesn’t take long before he’s proven to be the smarter one, gets promoted, and the bullies are knocked down a peg. On the other hand, everything also seems too easy. It’s hard to buy that Ender is really so much better than anyone else (there’s a computer game that is used in the book to show how radically different Ender’s mind is, but in the movie it only seems like he’s good at playing games). The limitations of the film’s time and budget ends up making it all seem kind of small-scale (Only a dozen adults in charge of the Earth military? Come on!). Nevertheless, Asa Butterfield (he was the lead in Scorsese’s Hugo) is really good as Ender. He’s got that scrawny look but he’s intelligent and fierce underneath. Harrison Ford (as his usually crotchety self) and Viola Davis (phoning it in by her standards) play two of the adult supervisors of the training program, with Ben Kingsley (He doesn’t put much acting into his roles these days does he?) as the revered veteran Mazer Rackham. There are a few fun action scenes in the training room, and an exciting climactic battle sequence, but overall this movie was too small and too contained to be a sci-fi blockbuster. Maybe the science fiction aspect kept filmmakers from really going the other direction, making this a character-driven movie. As a result, it was caught in the middle and failed to be very memorable (3.5 out of 5)

3 down, 47 more to go.

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