Overview: After humanity is nearly destroyed by an alien invasion, a young boy is trained and conditioned to lead a futuristic military in defense against an assumed second attack. Summit Entertainment; PG-13; 114 Minutes.
The Standard: As an English undergrad, I lost friends to my conviction that some movies improve upon their literary source material (The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Silver Linings Playbook to name a few). So I feel far less controversial in my assertion that it is fair practice to compare the quality of a movie against the written story/novel from which it was adapted. That comparison does not bode well for Ender’s Game.
Ender: Instead of a boy who moves from basic toddler to teen, surrendering the most important stretch of his life, we are left with a single actor, Asa Butterfield, who can exhibit as much acting ability as he would like, but can not transform from a sixteen year old to a four year old. The book is built upon that detailed and recorded loss of Ender’s innocence, which is not measured or observed in the movie. There is no judgment on Ender’s society’s necessitating that his exceptionality renders him a government tool. Where the young adult novel opens explorations of Nietzschean Superman philosophy, civil debates on the cost of military victory, and a biological essay on the definition and role of compassion—the movie just nods in these directions and shies away into its battlerooms.
Battlerooms: It’s hard to judge the application of CGI within the school’s battlerooms (and the bugger fleet, for that matter). It’s all floating geometric shapes allegedly dictated by hard space physics. I was hoping there might be a little more imagination applied here (certainly the book allows wiggle room with its minimized descriptors), but young viewers might appreciate the aesthetic, particularly those new to 3D.
Team Dragon: I hope the critical community has the good sense to call out the clumsy and comic intensity that Ben Kingsley provides in a misguided effort. Moises Arias gives the most successful performance as Bonzo, an antagonistic and contemptible school rival, which may be more insult than compliment since he is unlikable primarily because he has a weasel face. Hailee Steinfeld will undoubtedly have more success in better movies, but she shows glimpses of future stardom here. The movie can not keep up with the dramatic intensity of Viola Davis, and that’s a shame. But possibly the most noteworthy aspect of this movie is the placement of the Harrison Ford cutout placed on set as Colonel Graff. He’s been mailing it in for almost two decades! Why do we still grant him superstar status? Is it the smirk? It’s the smirk, isn’t it?
Overall: The poignancy of Ender’s story is stifled by a condensed chronology and casting limitations. The movie is absolutely forgettable, so skip it. Do the world and yourself a favor and don’t send any of your money in the direction of that hate-filled prick Orson Scott Card.