Starring: Asa Butterfield (Hugo), Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Viola Davis (The Help), Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3)
Writer/Director: Gavin Hood (Tsotsi)
Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes
Release Date: 25 October (UK), 1 November (US)
Based on the classic science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card (which, for the record, I have not read), Ender’s Game is a slightly different breed of young adult book adaptation. Not only is its source material much older than brethren like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games or Twilight, it also deal with much deeper themes and issues than any of those tales; themes and issues that are just as prevalent now as they were when the book was written nearly thirty years ago. Does this make the film a much more relevant piece of work than its contemporaries, or is it all a load of gobbledegook?
The story of Ender’s Game does follow a format familiar to the average YA story: a young boy is told he is destined for greater things and goes off to a place full of other gifted people to learn to become the greatest of them all. Sound familiar? Just remember: this one came first. But saying that is severely underselling the film. Ender is not only burdened with a great sense of responsibility and pressure, but he is also put under the scrutinising eyes of his superiors; his behaviour and actions constantly monitored and occasionally even tampered with. This makes for a compelling character story, and the film does a great job of making us sympathise with Ender. The film tackles the subject of war from a different perspective, and it luckily doesn’t try to beat you over the head with it like, say, Elysium did with its message. Where some may find the film falters is how the most of it lacks great stakes. A good chunk of the film is spent in battle simulations; whilst thrilling and inventive, they lack consequence because it is all just a game. It never bugged me much, as the spectacle of the simulations kept me engaged, but I’m sure some may find it makes the film lack tension. However, the film does somewhat acknowledge and play with this in the finale in a series of plot turns that are very well put together. The film also suffers from moving at too quick a pace, especially at the start. Events pass by so quick that is sometimes hard to figure out how long it has been between major plot beats, and certain elements (such as Ender’s relationship to his brother) feel brushed over. I’m sure this all comes from having to squeeze the book down into a manageable length, but these moments did jar me. The ending is also abrupt, somewhat setting up for a potential sequel, which is a big recurring problem with these kinds of films: they all try to set up for the next one even though there’s no guarantee there will be a next one.
Ender’s Game benefits greatly from a good main cast. Butterfield is great as Ender; his portrayal of the character is cold and firm, but you completely sympathise with him given his situation. He isn’t immediately likable but, like the other characters in the film, you come to respect and appreciate him. Harrison Ford is finally given a role where his newfound grumpy persona fits well, and he plays off well with the like of Butterfield and Viola Davis. Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin aren’t given the greatest amount of screen time, but they does well with the time they are given. Ben Kingsley enters the film quite late and in the end feels somewhat inconsequential, but he gives it his all as he does these days. The only person who really stands out as an odd casting choice is Moises Arias as Bonzo; his physicality and demeanour feel out of place with the character he plays and it sometimes seems laughable that so many people would find this kid threatening.
This film contains a lot of visual effects, and the film relies greatly on them. For the most part, they’re pretty good; standouts being the zero gravity sequences and the final battle. However, certain parts look iffy such as the much-repeated footage of the initial alien attack. The film’s production design is reminiscent of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movies with its sleek architecture and balance between stark whites and bright colours; balanced with the cinematography and lighting, it makes for a pretty looking film. The score is also effective, bringing the intensity when needed but also helping to accentuate the quiet moments of the piece.
I cannot judge whether Ender’s Game works as an adaptation, but as a film in and of itself it works. It by no means breaks any grounds on a narrative or technical level, but it entertains and gets across the message serviceably. I wouldn’t say it is a must-see film, but it got me interested in reading the book and is a lot better than lesser YA adaptations like Percy Jackson or I Am Number Four.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10