First reviews are in on “Ender’s Game.” The consensus thus far seems to be the film is a solidly good but not great adaptation of the Orson Scott Card sci-fi classic. A roundup, below.
The film stars Harrison Ford as the tough trainer of a batch of young fighters tasked with saving Earth from an imminent alien invasion, with Asa Butterfield (“Hugo”) in the title role, Ben Kingsley as a tough veteran warrior, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis and Abigail Breslin, and is directed by Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi,””X-Men Origins: Wolverine”). It hits theaters November 1; the trailer is here.
Check out Bill Desowitz’s “Immersed in Movies” interview with Hood, on the way the film broaches technology, violence and young adults, here.
Butterfield does his best to bring you inside Ender Wiggin,
using his wide, blue eyes to try and convey a depth that Hood’s script just
doesn’t support. And Ford constructs a man who’s bearing vacillates between
being legitimately haunted by the trauma he’s got to inflict upon a wee lad and
being mildly irked, as if he doesn’t want to read the cue cards on SNL.
The special effects are fine, but Ender’s Game has the bad
luck to be coming on the heels of Gravity. In the book, the scenes of combat in
the Battle Room — featuring as many as 30 kids streaking through zero-gravity,
executing formations and maneuvers on the fly — seemed to be unfilmable. While
Hood and his CG wizards do a more than decent job, anyone who’s seen Alfonso
Cuaron’s wizardry will have seen it done far, far better.
An anti-bullying allegory writ on the largest possible
scale, “Ender’s Game” frames an interstellar battle between mankind and pushy
ant-like aliens, called Formics, in which Earth’s fate hinges on a tiny group
of military cadets, most of whom haven’t even hit puberty yet. At face value,
the film presents an electrifying star-wars scenario — that rare case where an
epic space battle transpires entirely within the span of two hours — while at
the same time managing to deliver a higher pedagogical message about tolerance,
empathy and coping under pressure. Against considerable odds, this
risky-sounding Orson Scott Card adaptation actually works, as director Gavin
Hood pulls off the sort of teen-targeted franchise starter Summit was hoping
Hood doesn’t bring very much in the way of sweaty-palmed
tension to his combat scenes, but he does succeed in bringing some of the
weightier elements of Card’s book to the big screen. Unflinchingly portraying
Ender as a troubled and potentially violent young man, and those in command of
him heartlessly manipulative, it’s these aspects of the story – rather than the
explosions and trainee laser battles – that ultimately make it stick in the
The movie’s apocalyptic finale indicates that it’s bitten off
considerably more than it can chew in terms of ideas, but it looks good, and
the story rattles along.
This starfighter-recruit blockbuster is refreshingly
idea-driven for something that cost $110m, and while nothing in it requires you
to sign up to Card’s politics, you’re still asked to grapple with the morality
of violence in ways rarely seen in teen-targeted epics this side of The Hunger
Games. Asa Butterfield, part of the problem in the disappointing Hugo, gives a
much more intrepid and complex performance as Ender Wiggin, brightest fledgling
in a boot camp called Battle School, where he and other youngsters prepare to
save humanity by honing their skills in a series of strategic war games.
Meanwhile, Ford offers a perfect foil in Graff (more like
gruff!) for Ender’s developing maturity, applying the stick and the carrot in
equal measures to simultaneously build confidence and nurture his leadership
Bolstered by solid performances and a clean, elegant visual
style, Hood ultimately delivers a film that actually earns the distinction of
being for audiences of all ages.