Review: “Ender’s Game” (2013) — Classic SF Novel Finally Made It to the Screen
The premise of many a science fiction film has been aliens coming to the Earth, often as invaders (but not always). Movies as varied in genre, era, and quality as Independence Day (1996), Pacific Rim (2013), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956/1978), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951/2008), District 9 (2009), Men in Black (1997), The War of the Worlds (1953/2005), and Cloverfield (2008) have used this theme as the basis of their story-lines.
Ender’s Game (2013) is yet another entry into this field. Written and directed by Gavin Hood, its screenplay is an adaptation of the novel of the same title by Orson Scott Card (1985/1994). I must admit that I have not (yet) read the novel, so I cannot comment on how faithful the film is to it. Nor should my comments here be taken to apply to Card’s writings. However, I do know that the novel is the first in a series known as the Ender Quartet, so don’t be surprised if you hear of a sequel to this film coming to theatres near you in the future.
In a nutshell, the film centers on Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a young adolescent boy who is recruited by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) of Earth’s International Military to lead a counter-invasion of the home planet of alien beings known as the Formics (due to their ant-like appearance). The Formics had previously attempted to invade and conquer Earth. They were defeated only due the heroic actions of Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), a military pilot who flew his aircraft into the Formics’ command ship on an apparent suicide mission. The rest of the alien attack fleet ceased to function because the destruction of the command ship caused the loss of the Queen Formic, who directed the thoughts and actions of her fleet from the ship. Nevertheless, Earth suffered massive destruction and the loss of many of its people. Since the time of the invasion, improvements in Earth’s technological and military intelligence abilities allowed humans to beat back the Formics across the galaxy to their home planet. Now, Earth’s strategy is to destroy the Formics before they attack again. Can Ender dig down inside himself for the right stuff for this mission? Can he and his team (including Petra Arkanian [Hailee Steinfeld]) complete the mission? And, if they do, at what cost?
When I can summarize a movie’s plot in one paragraph, you should wonder if the film is a bit light on substance. The fact is that this is yet another dystopian flick aimed at the adolescent (middle and high school student) audience. I knew this before the movie started because the trailers on its DVD featured The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) and Divergent (2014). Granted, such films can be pretty good and often appeal to adults as well. For this audience, Ender’s Game trots out some serious adult star-power in Harrison Ford (he of the never-ending Star Wars franchise) and Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3, Sexy Beast, Gandhi).
Nevertheless, this film just didn’t do it for me. I thought the plot was obvious and its message (given the United States’ recent forays into Afghanistan and Iraq) too politically correct and laid on with a sledgehammer. However, my young adolescent daughter loved it and is now tracking down Card’s novels (she can polish off an entire YA series in a few days).
So, my advice to myself: I am going to read the books as well. My advice to others: also read the books; watch the movie, especially if you have adolescents in your family with whom to view it. Don’t expect a mind-bending plot, but do look forward to some cool battle scenes, futuristic sets, graphics, and CGI and an interesting vision of Earth’s militarization of outer space.