Due to a virus on my computer and a few personal reasons, this review is a bit late, for which I apologize.
Yes, I actually went to see this movie and yes, I know that the author of the original Ender’s Game book Orson Scott Card has made some offensive statement against homosexuals which have inspired multiple people to call for a boycott of the movie. That’s great you guys, but here’s the thing: even if Card receives so much as a one-digit percentage of the film’s income, I’d theorize that me not paying to see Ender’s Game, based solely on the fact that the guy who wrote the source material is an asshole, wouldn’t exactly have a significant effect on the man’s bank account.
I would be especially idiotic to let one man’s opinions be my one motivation not to pay these filmmakers back for what, much to my astonishment, is actually a pretty damn good film. After recently listening to the book, I expected the film to completely fail, especially as the twist of the book is botched by the advertising, but I’ll get to that later.
True, there are some typical errors that Ender’s Game makes as an adaptation. Orson Scott Card dreaded the possibility that the eponymous Ender Wiggin would be much older in the film than he was in the book. This fear came true. In the film he is played by Asa Butterfield and the plot revolves around him training with other kids his age in a futuristic Battle School for an upcoming second battle against an insect-like alien race known as The Formics (called “Buggers” in the book). The first battle, shown to the new recruits in bits of video footage, was won by mankind when one of our pilots, Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), flew into the mother ship and destroyed the Formic queen, taking down the rest of the Formic attack force in the process. Knowing more about how the Formics work, the authorities have made the decision that training for the next fight will start when the recruits are only children. Perhaps, too, shall they fight the battle as children.
Ender, however, is a seen as a more special child, especially by International Fleet Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), who has hopes that Ender will be the one to lead humanity into their next and final victory against our alien enemy. Having his training observed by Graff and his colleague Major Anderson (Viola Davis), Ender is put through several tests, which include fight simulations, computer-generated mind-games and what’s essentially a zero gravity version of paintball. He makes friends in fellow students Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), Alai (Suraj Parthasarathy) and Bean (Aramis Knight), but also an enemy in a violent commender named Bonzo (Moisés Arias). All of these characters are played young actors and they do a better job than you’d even hope.
The main drawbacks of the film really come from the fact that they left key elements of the book out, which so often sadly happens with movies like this. The way Ender feels about the Formics towards the end of the story is explained better in the book and the entire subplot involving Ender’s loving sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) and his psychotic brother Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) teaming up to anonymously write debate articles to provoke the world and the system is a subplot that’s nowhere to be found in the movie version. It’s especially unfortunate that Peter, such a big character in the book, has only one scene in this version. He’s important to Ender’s arc still but I’d have liked to see more of him.
Then there’s all the advertising that completely ruins the twist of both the film and the novel, although I blame this primarily on whatever fools were in charge of the trailer- and poster-making. I won’t go into any spoilers, but let’s just say that the tagline “It’s Not A Game” has already said enough.
I did, however, very much enjoy Ender’s Game. It’s not a perfect movie perhaps but boy was it refreshing to see that the book was adapted so unexpectedly well. It also stands nicely on its own as a film, providing impressively good performances from the leading children, a faithful script that remains interesting throughout, interesting alien designs that made me think of ants or somesuch, a great soundtrack wherein Steve Jablonsky brings Clint Mansell‘s score for The Fountain to mind, an immersive tone and a set of astounding visuals to go with it all. Most good-looking of all are the scenes set inside one of the mind-games Ender plays. It presents a surreal enviroment that made me think of Oz: The Great and Powerful, only far more interesting.
The zero gravity effects are also impressive, even after having seen it done with absolute perfection in Gravity just a few weeks prior. The film is directed by Gavin Hood, who, in spite of the tremendous catastrophe that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is a director with promise when it comes to drama, like his South African Oscar-winner Tsotsi. Although it would seem that, since X-Men Origins, he has learned to direct better action as well. One of my final complaints on the film, however, would be that towards the end, Ender manages to smuggle something important onto his ship before he leaves, which, if poor Richard Dawkins can’t keep his jar of honey when boarding an airplane, seems pretty implausible to me.
I am giving Ender’s Game a 4/5. Watch the trailer below but, again, beware of the potential spoilers.