‘Ender’s Game,’ written and directed by Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), is based on the popular 1985 young adult sci-fi novel penned by Orson Scott Card. With the impressive special effects and strong ensemble cast, this futuristic adventure is an entertaining ride for kids. It has enough storyline to keep adults enthralled too. Although the novel was written three decades ago, it’s intriguing how well the source material holds up today. The story mainly takes place in a virtual gaming world where teenagers and not adults have the right skills for modern warfare. Thanks to Hood’s strong screenplay and good pacing, it’s a respectful adaptation of a book considered unfilmable.
In the not-too-distant future, 50 years after an alien invasion, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one of the brightest students in a military school run by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and his second in command Major Anderson (Viola Davis). They see a potential leader with Ender and put him through the wringer to test his abilities under pressure. Once promoted to battle school, Ender quickly rises through the ranks, showing he has the creative genius required for the complicated battle simulations. Along the way, Ender is bullied by jealous rivals that make his journey difficult but Ender gains a valuable friendship with Petra (Hailee Steinfeld). Butterfield who starred in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ gives a convincing performance as the awkward cadet with just the right amount of rebellion and nerdiness. Steinfeld (True Grit) is equally good as his confidant.
The training is intense for Ender. Both Colonel Graff and Major Anderson push Ender to see how he reacts under different scenarios. This is to make certain that he is the best cadet with the potential to eventually lead an assault against Formics. They are insect-like aliens that were barely stopped from taking over Earth. These pesky “buggers” are now contained on their own planet but Graff’s intelligence shows they are planning another invasion of Earth soon. It is the only way for their species to survive since their planet is overpopulated. Ender is a genius with the capacity to love. He states, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” It frustrates Ender that he knows so little about Formics. It’s an intensely reflective performance by Butterfield.
Ender’s training is fascinating to watch. There are scenes in a zero-gravity dome where the young cadets learn to strategize against opposing teams. Petra helps Ender become a better shot with his phaser. This enrages one of his rivals Bonzo (Moises Arias). Anyone who has been bullied in school will cheer Ender when he finally fights back after reasoning fails. He makes sure his opponents get the message. The film also adds an interesting twist with a video game Ender plays on his iPad. It’s a frustrating game that incorporates Ender’s own psyche. Eventually, Ender’s final training is with the hero of the previous Formic war, Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). Does Ender have the right stuff to be the next great battle commander? It’s a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of Ender knowing that his decisions have life and death implications.
Although this movie targets a young demographic, this story takes on heady subject matter. One issue the film touches on is the morality of having child soldiers. There is also the debate over whether preemptive strikes are moral. It is amazing how timely this story is when you look at today’s use of drone warfare and it’s similarities to violent video games. ‘Enders Game’ is visually stunning and engaging while conveying these weighty topics. It’s not as complex as Card’s novel but Hood serves an entertaining sci-fi drama. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/2UNWLgY-wuo.