As a space-battle obsessed kid, I was a big fan of Ender’s Game. I even read the sequels, though most of them were too religious/political for my liking. Orson Scott Card’s opinions on religion and politics also threatened to ruin this movie because they pissed off potential ticket buyers.
To save humanity from a second alien invasion, a young prodigy trains to lead an attack fleet by playing war games.
If you’re are a fan of Ender’s Game or space battles but not a fan of Orson Scott Card’s opinions, you should know that boycotting the movie won’t hurt him. He was paid off for the rights long ago, so your money will go to the studio to encourage them to make more movies about space battles. Which they should, because this one is pretty awesome.
Ender’s Game takes place in the future, years after an invasion of insectoid aliens called the Formics almost destroyed the Earth. The movie starts out promisingly by showing an epic battle between fighter planes and alien ships. Sadly it’s over far too soon. The same is true of most of the scenes in the movie. Each one piles on top of the next in a mad rush to cover the entire story in two hours. This means that they didn’t have to change the story much from the book, but also that you never really have a chance to relax and absorb what they’re showing you.
There were some aliens, they invaded, blah blah, BATTLE SCHOOL.
Ender (Asa Butterfield) is a teenager who’s being watched by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis) as a potential candidate to lead the fleet against the Formics. Ender’s older brother Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) flunked out because he’s a psychopath and his older sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) flunked out because she’s a wimp, so the Fleet let Ender’s parents have a third kid.
Valentine, chill. You can’t save the Earth. You’re a girl!
As luck would have it, Ender’s perfect, which they discover when Ender puts a bully named Stilson (Caleb Thaggard) in the hospital. Ender is whisked off to Battle School, a space-based training facility for teenage soldiers, and pushed through the program at a breakneck pace. About five seconds after arriving, Ender has his own ‘army’ to lead in fights against other student armies in a zero-g arena called the battle room.
So… boss… whaddaya want us to do?
The battle school battles were my favorite part of the book because they really showcased Ender’s outside-the-box tactical abilities as well as his ability to use the natural strengths and weaknesses of the other kids, even the misfits. In the movie, though, there are only a few quick battles to make it clear that Ender’s one big idea is to clump everything together and ram it down his enemy’s throat so they can repeat the maneuvers on an invasion-fleet scale later on.
Ramming speed, Captain!
Battle school looks cool and futuristic and the CGI is amazing, especially in the Command School scenes, where Ender and his friends fight huge battles against fleets of Formics in a simulator under the tutelage of war hero Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). However, the zero G scenes are very obviously done on wires. Now, short of renting a Vomit Comet or a giant water tank, I don’t know how they could have avoided using wires, but I know it’s possible to make it look less fake because I just saw Gravity.
It’s the posture, I think. They’re too stiff and upright.
My other big problem with this movie was that they softened the impact. The children are teens rather than six-year-olds, which makes sense from a casting perspective but not from a training perspective. If you want to mold someone into an order-following supersoldier, you don’t do it when they’re at their most recalcitrant, rebellious age.
Sir! I thought I told you to stay the hell out of my room, sir!
There are also several instances in the book where deaths are softened to hospitalizations. It really took the teeth out of the story, as one of the themes revolves around whether it’s acceptable to steal the lives of a handful of children for the good of the many. Plus, as disturbing as it is to see a thirteen year old kick another boy in the stomach until he ends up in the hospital, it’s infinitely more disquieting to see a six year old kill an attacker with a single well-placed kick to the head.
You better let me go, or I’ll tell Dad.
Writer/director Gavin Hood’s changes did take away some of the sexist sting, though. Major Anderson (who was the more likeable of the two adults controlling Ender’s fate) is a female. Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), the only female battle school student they ever mention, is given an expanded role as Ender’s best friend. This does mean that Bean (Aramis Knight) is relegated to the sidelines, but it’s worth it when you consider the fact that Petra no longer has to fail because of her ‘feminine weakness.’
She even gets a special job: Big Red Button Pusher.
In fact, because of the frenetic pace, nobody really has a chance to crack, even Ender, who is tormented by sleep deprivation, strange dreams, and the notion that he doesn’t really understand the Formics enough to know if he’s making the right decisions. This does kind of damage the ending, as people who are not familiar with the book may find Ender’s final decisions somewhat jarring, especially considering an important conversation is about the nature of the Formics and their intentions is skipped over in favor of zooming in on the eyes of a CGI alien for a few minutes.
Hi! I’m Ender! Want to be my friend??
But overall, I liked it. Adapting Ender’s Game was always going to be hard, and I think I would have made a lot of the same choices as they did. So if you like space battles, young geniuses, and a slightly complicated “I must love my enemy to understand how to destroy him” undertone, you should see this movie.