Hailee-Steinfeld-and-Asa-Butterfield-in-Enders-Game

It’s been a long road from page to silver screen for Ender’s Game. In 1985, Orson Scott Card’s futuristic novel won the coveted Hugo and Nebula award – along with legions of fans – but for the past decade the film adaptation has been languishing in developmental hell. Directed by Gavin Hood and complete with a star-studded cast, the popular book has finally been brought to life. But whilst the classic literature is hailed as an inspiring and poignant coming-of-age story, the film doesn’t quite prove itself worthy of similar praise.

In the wake of a devastating planetary attack by an insect-like race called Formics, Earth’s most promising youngsters are being recruited and trained to protect the world from future attacks. One such remarkably gifted youth is Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield); Fast-tracked through battle school after gaining the attention of gruff Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), Ender must master laser tag and other strategy-driven games if he is to earn the respect of his peers and become the military leader Graff desperately wants him to be. As is necessary with book to film adaptations there are a number of departures from Card’s prose, the biggest of which is that Hood’s screenplay condenses the six-year timeline into one, using dull narration to bring uninitiated audiences up to speed.

Whilst there are a number of interesting ideas at play in Ender’s Game, none of these issues feel like they have been sufficiently delved into by the time the credits roll, with the result being that the film is not nearly as profound as it thinks it is. The special effects are of course the film’s biggest selling point, and the visuals are spectacular. However, Hood’s decision to play everything straight robs these impressive looking sequences of the fun they could have been. That might not have been a problem if the director had substituted fun for tension, but the various mock-battles the youngsters partake in are lacking in both.

The cast comprise of a decent mix of youth and experience, but the only actor whose abilities feel like they are being maximised is Butterfield. The Hugo star acquits himself well, showcasing some notable dramatic chops in the film’s final act and generally doing a solid job of portraying what might be going on in the mind of a child being prepared for war. Elsewhere the veterans of the piece are all solid in their roles, but both Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis are underused. Given her role as an emotional advisor for the children, it’s a particular shame that Davis wasn’t given more screen time, as this is an interesting viewpoint the film could have sorely used more of.

Despite the solid performances – and an admittedly intriguing final 10 minutes – Ender’s Game is an underwhelming sci-fi that makes poor use of its thought-provoking material.

[Rating:2/5]

  • Sky Marshall

    Given the narrowness of the subject and it’s one-trick-pony ending, I can’t imagine this movie having any real depth. Not for me.

  • Eric Cantwell

    I’m glad that your negative review actually makes sense compared to some of the others. The other negative reviews I’ve read seem vague and perplexing as to why the film didn’t work for them.

  • Jason

    As a fan of the book, when I first heard a movie was going to be done I was both elated and afraid. Elated that the story I really like would be presented to a wider audience, but afraid Hollywood would sink its superficial teeth into it and change the story beyond recognition. For example, many articles I have read suggested movie execs wanted a romance between Petra and Ender! I have not seen the movie yet, but having been following the progress of the film for the past couple of years I can say that I believe that Gavin Hood has tried hard to stay true to the book (for good or for bad).
    Amon suggests “fun” should have been substituted for “tension”. This is exactly what I was initially afraid of. Ender is a tragic figure. The original story works because here is a kid (albeit a savant) that is having his childhood robbed from him. Adults know what they are doing and the ease at which they are succeeding does trouble them (ex. Graff). In that environment, Ender has very little opportunity for “fun”. Ender’s most defining moments are themselves the most intense. When faced 3-4 to 1 against bullies what is little Ender going to do? Is he going to be “funny” and use his stand-up comic routine to get out of the jam or is he going to use a “tense” and serious method that is consistent with the direction of the story?
    I had read and liked “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlien. And I was disappointed that the original story was cheapened. I mean, why take a story that is unique and turn it into the same as everything else? With sequels, prequels, and reboots which have begun to define all that Hollywood is about these days, it is no wonder that most critics keep trying to understand Ender’s Game by trying to identify it with other movies like: Star Wars (just because Harrison Ford is in it), Hunger Games (just because teenagers are the characters), Harry Potter, etc… It is so bad that critics go so far as to say: “if you combine Star Wars and Hunger Games and Harry Potter and Independence Day and … then you get Ender’s Game.” No. Is it not more correct to say that Ender’s Game is unlike most Sci-Fi movies that have recently come before it?