Written for the Screen and Directed by Gavin Hood
Based on the Novel by Orson Scott Card
Starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin and Ben Kingsley
PG-13, 114 minutes
At the climax of Ender’s Game, what should be the most exciting part of the film, our protagonist poses a question: “Why are we watching these images?” I found myself asking the same question. That’s not a good sign.
The film, based on Orson Scott Card’s novel made mandatory reading for many high school English classes (mine included), follows child prodigy Andrew “Ender” Wiggen (played by Asa Butterfield), handpicked to go through a militaristic boot camp in the future by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), who believes him to be the only kid capable of leading the human fleet against an aggressive alien species known as Formics. The plot doesn’t really focus much of its time on the alien species, however, as we are treated to numerous sequences of Ender at Battle School (a majority of the film) where he tangles with a sadistic and power hungry bully, plays video games on a tablet, and is constantly portrayed as an infallible wunderkind. Unfortunately, none of this is especially interesting.
It doesn’t help either that our hero remains the worst kind of cypher you can have as the protagonist of your movie, a dull one. He’s a kid who is constantly told how great he is from Harrison Ford’s character (more underhanded in some scenes than in others, it should be said), groomed for leadership, and yet still gets angrily chastised for pulling a risky stunt that leads to a failed simulation later in the movie. Even then, there’s never any sense that he won’t succeed in whatever he sets out to do, a fact that doesn’t help in building tension. The actor portraying him is okay, but he isn’t able to express any kind of emotion beyond scared or stoic. Plus, he delivers one of the worst line readings I have ever heard in the very first “Battle Room” scene, eliciting quite a laugh from the audience. Harrison Ford, on the other hand, sleepwalks through this thing, pontificating on the dangers they are about to face and how time is running out whenever he is on screen.
I was very skeptical of this movie being made from the time I heard about it. The story didn’t strike me as something that could work in a cinematic context, although you could potentially say that of any novel before the transition to film has been made. My initial evaluation of the prospect of this movie is unfortunately founded, as the film stumbles from sequence to sequence without any sense of urgency to it or anything to hold out interest. At least in the book we had Ender to latch onto and experience things with. Here, all we get are several moments that feel cribbed from bad high school comedies (to a thankfully much lesser degree than the recent Carrie remake) to incredibly dull “Battle Room” sequences. By the time the big “twist” ending comes, and our whole ethical debate is incited, it seems more like a cheap sleight of hand than anything revelatory. The ending also introduces the concept that the movie could go on longer, something I was afraid of, but mercifully cuts things short as it reveals itself to be a lead-in for a possible sequel, one that might never happen given the box office take.
Not since this summer’s World War Z have I sat in the theater so thoroughly uninterested in what was taking place on screen. Ender’s Game is a dull misfire, and that feels like quite a sin considering the movie cost over a hundred million dollars to make and the potentially interesting things they could have done with the source material.
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