Ender's Game Directed by: Gavin Hood Cast: Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Moises Arias, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis Running Time: 1 hrs 54 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: November 1, 2013
PLOT: A tactful young soldier (Butterfield) moves up the ranks as a potential candidate to defeat an intergalactic enemy.
WHO'S IT FOR? The appeal of Ender's Game certainly goes beyond the demographic the title character might come from. However, it is worth noting that this is very solid entertainment for youth of his age. It doesn't soften its military for teens, or treat audiences like untrained soldiers.
EXPECTATIONS: I was intrigued to finally experience the story of Ender's Game from Orson Scott Card's revered novel, but was a bit timid considering who was directing. Gavin Hood? The guy who made X-Men Origins: Wolverine and even the boring Rendition?
Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin: After a commendable performance at the front of Hugo, Butterfield presents another strong turn as a male brought into a world beyond his immediate emotional and mental understanding. To watch him expand in these regards becomes a compelling journey, with attention on Butterfield successfully carrying the audience through long passages that are without immediate spectacle. Butterfield shows emotional control best of all, hitting perfect notes in extremely difficult sensitivies. Score: 8
Hailee Steinfeld as Petra Arkanian: Further giving credit to Ender's Game, Steinfeld is not just playing The Girl in the group. It does feel like there is much more to see from this character, but Steinfeld helps this character have more importance than a demographic filler. Score: 6
Abigail Breslin as Valentine Wiggin: The inspiration for Ender is not a love interest but ultimately his sister, played also with mature dramatic skill from Breslin. Her character could have been entirely (and wrongfully) lost in the deleted scenes. That the film takes time to show Breslin interacting with on-screen brother Butterfield in a non-space moment is a declaration that this movie is working on a more intricate emotional level than its YA predecessors. Score: 7
Moises Arias as Bonzo Madrid: In a war film with a different version of villain, Arias' supporting character offers a strong antagonist in the few scenes that he shares with Ender. With reference to Graff's line about Napoleon, Arias inhabits that idea well, but also shows the desperation for a short guy to maintain power. This is certainly more interesting than his polarizing cartooning in Kings of Summer, as here Arias uses his intense gaze for emotions that are similarly threatening as they are sad. Score: 7
TALKING: Eschewing any maudlin hiccups during emotional moments, Ender's Game continues its discussion about war morality throughout, especially when Harrison Ford's general states, "When war is over, we can debate the morality of what we do." It is worth noting, however, the strangeness in seeing Ender quoted in the beginning of the film, to only hear him say the line later. Score: 7
SIGHTS: Is Ender's Game the best video game movie ever? The action takes place in simulation, but the visuals provide the excitement that good battle scenes require. Coming a month after the release of Gravity, Ender's Game does look a bit underdeveloped in comparison with its images of actor's heads in fake space suits. Kudos to the choice as well to use lower quality animation for the video games that Ender plays himself, filling up the screen and screentime with images that are distinctly a step down than the crisp imagery often experienced at the same price. Score: 8
SOUNDS: Transformers composer Steve Jablonsky continues to explode orchestras and rush string sections with his loud score, which sounds particularly volcanic in IMAX. A song by the Flaming Lips in the end credits, "Peace Sword in B Minor," further removes the movie from seeming like a straight-up jingoism festival; instead, the song makes the film feel even more contemplative. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: After worrying that Ender's Game was more blind propaganda for kid-size military culture, the film takes a very sharp turn at its ending, in which the curtain is dropped about the difference between reality and a game.
ENDING: See above.
QUESTIONS: As it goes for solid adaptations, the questions are the usual: What did director Gavin Hood add and take away from Orson Scott Card's material? Does the book read as well as this film plays out?
REWATCHABILITY: I am curious to see how the dialogue foreshadows the film's ending throughout, and also whether to test Ender's own arc to see how compelling it is in a second viewing.
Uncorrupted by the types of emotional simplifications that hinder other young adult films, the film's dramatic strength comes from a well-picked cast, whose on-screen power is not discernible by age. Before its jolting twist in the third act, the film is the progression of a young child in military camp, except that he is admired for his tactical skills, not his physical skills. Such emphasis on cleverness bodes well for the script itself, which makes for an exhilarating twist in the third act, in which much of what had been previously presented with an air of support turns out to be the setup of a heavy critique, nonetheless one that challenges viewers of all ages. Indeed, the crushing endgame in Ender's Game is where the film finds its unique and powerful purpose.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10