By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
* Spoiler Alert
Not everyone will be familiar with or have read Orson Scott Card‘s book, Ender’s Game, that the movie of the same name is adapted from. Writer/Director Gavin Hood did an interesting job with the first episode of this universe spanning saga but he was too heavy-handed in his translation of some of the book’s elements. To see the hero Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) get bullied throughout and see him deliver ‘justice’ to his aggressors was too much. When adults and the media are saying the best response is to not provide these bullies an audience, Wiggin does quite the opposite. Some people may well ask just what does that make him?
Apparently, he’s a prodigy. He is likened to Napoleon and Caesar, and the dialogue is interesting enough to keep audiences glued to wondering what will become of Ender. There’s this pathological aggression in this character that the bigwigs, a military force simply known as the International Fleet, took notice of. If they knew that he was ‘The One,’ then some people will have to wonder when he will turn Darth Vader upon the forces he’s being trained to fight against.
In this universe’s version of West Point Military Academy, Wiggin goes there to learn about what it takes to make the grade. He has to be familiar with Sun Tsu’s Art of War before he can fight Earth’s greatest enemy: an alien species known as the Formics. These ant-like creatures look like they can easily belong to the world set up in Starship Troopers. Their invasion of Earth was met with a great battle where an ace pilot, Mazer Rackham (Kyle Russell / Ben Kingsley), sacrificed himself in order to down a massive ship, presumedly a troop transport. Because of that action, he’s a hero and many youths aspire to be like him, especially Ender. This motivation keeps this boy going, but in what happens instead is a quick lesson in how to skip puberty. His “Wonder Years” are gone, and his meeting of Petra Arkanian (Hailee Steinfeld) — who looks amazingly like Winnie in a few scenes — might have had different ramifications if this narrative was more slow going. A mutual interest for one another is suggested, but as for what truly develops, only readers of Orson Scott’s works know.
Instead, audiences may leave this film wanting to dissect what is there to like about this film. This product works as a good intro to a new universe that might see sequels, but it hardly stands out from the crowd of books turned into films from the past two decades. Percy Jackson just did not hit the same heights as the book, and this product seems to suffer from the same problems that Starship Troopers faced with all its propaganda messages. At least in Ender’s Game, might does not equal right. Instead this film is all about the loss of innocence and dealing with adult responsibilities. Some characters will find themselves either being the leader of the pack or be pawns in a war.
The battle sequences look fantastic and some of it was designed to look good in 3D. But when the character drama is at the core of this film, Hood opted to film in 2D so the camera can remain focussed at where it’s needed. He wanted to focus on how Ender, softly played by Butterfield, was really wanting to segregate himself from the community. The only family member that he feels close to is Valentine (Abigail Breslin), his older sister who gets sorely under-utilized in this tale. His conflict with Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) is like that of a child just begging to be let loose. Ford is excellent at being very gruff towards Ender and making this character unlikable. Kingsley is perhaps the most surprising. He plays a Kiwi who has to hone Ender to becoming a battle commander. But in what he becomes in the end, this butterfly will have to discover it on his own.