And by that, I mean happy.
With Ender’s Game, writer/Director Gavid Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) delivers a strong and pleasing — yet occasionally dull and dispassionate — sci-fi epic, proving that Orson Scott Card’s allegedly unfilmable literary classic just needed the right guiding hand. Yes, the right guiding hand previously guided Wolverine into a ditch, deal with it.
As Ender, the third child by birth and middle child by disposition, Asa Butterfield (Hugo) plays the young recruit with an analytical and robotic bend at times, cutting in with restrained fire at others. Ender is young, discombobulated, and eager to achieve, but he is not necessarily eager to follow orders. He is a piece of clay with glass in it, essentially, but he is recruited to leave his family and join an elite training program after impressing his ever watchful superior, Colonel Hyram Graff (Harrison Ford, who plays the gruff and singularly obsessed Graff with authority and not an ounce of doubt or affection for more than the boy’s potential) with his advanced tactical mind.
Quickly, the boy advances up the ranks, constantly coming into conflict with his superiors and his classmates. Graff mentors — mostly from afar — believing that the boy is capable of leading the attack against the Formics, a group of bug like aliens that had previously invaded the Earth.
Despite Ender’s occasional apprehension, violent tendencies, and crippling guilt — thus mirroring the aggression of his brother Peter and the compassion of his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin), who had both previously flamed out of the system — Graff stubbornly dismisses concerns about the boy’s readiness and his troubling actions. Instead of coddling the boy, he graduates him to the command school, taking him to a formerly hostile outpost despite the objections of Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), a counselor and Graff’s lieutenant.
Nothing can stop Graff’s plans, certainly not the possibility that Ender might be a crumpled can once he is done with him. The boy is purely a utilitarian tool to Graff, and really, the phrase “It’s for the greater good” might as well hang as a sign on a chain above Graff’s head when he speaks about Ender’s destiny. I love the back and forth between Ford and the similarly well-cast Davis, who provides a human contrast to Graff’s fear and duty based coolness.
Once at the outpost, Ender meets with a new mentor — Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) — who had previously existed as a martyr for the cause and a hero of the invasion whose survival had been shrouded in secrecy to give the people of earth an example of sacrifice and heroism. It is Rackham who takes Ender through the final stages of his training, aligning him with a group of his friends and allies from the training school for a final series of simulations.
Spoiler Alert! AKA If You’ve Read the Book and You’re Cooling Knowing How the Movie Ends, Keep Going.
The film alludes to and outright addresses drones, child soldiers, the war on terror, the age of the atom bomb, and the value (and anti-value) of a pre-meditated attack, but the smart script doesn’t hit you in the head with the kind of preachiness that one might expect from that laundry list, and it’s legitimate to be awed by the prescience of the source material with regard to the future of warfare.
While the big reveal can be a stunner to those who haven’t read the book (And I haven’t, and CliffsNotes don’t count), the ending (which is somewhat faithful, save for the decision by Hood to make Peter basically irrelevant) feels a bit too Hollywood, with Ender realizing his psychic connection to the Formics before becoming the custodian of the race’s future. We’re never allowed to see Ender deal with the inevitable undeserved glory that would come from his “victory” or whether Graff will ever take the time to debate the morality of what he did. The end is shorthand and tidy. Which is a bit odd considering the gut punch.
Honestly, I would have liked to see that, but absent that option and if given the choice between the theatrical ending and something more ambiguous right after Ender discovers that he has been used as a tool for genocide as well as the murder of thousands of his own soldiers, I would choose the latter over what we got. Despite my gripes about the ending and sometimes plodding pace (particularly in the early stages of Ender’s training) I have no trouble saying that Ender’s Game easilyjoins the ranks of impressive cerebral science fiction films from the last few months alongside Oblivion, Gravity, Elysium, and The World’s End.
The Orson Scott Card Conundrum
Though many are boycotting the film (as is their right) despite the news that the controversial author will not profit from this film’s earnings, it is worth mentioning that there is nothing that could be perceived as homophobic in this film. If you like good, smart science fiction with a message and a talented cast and you can overlook the troubling ideaology of the author, this film is for you.