Title: Ender's Game
Aren't They Actually Using Video Games to Train Today's Military? Yep. It's every teenage boy's dream, minus (or perhaps including) the genocide.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Two and a half WOPRs out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Boy genius may be mankind's last hope to repel quote-unquote imminent alien invasion.
Tagline: "This is not a game."
Better Tagline: "Well is it or isn't it? Make up your goddamn mind."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Decades after an invasion by the insectoid alien race known as the "Formics," the Earth-based International Fleet trains young people demonstrating aptitude in strategy and tactics at their orbiting Battle School. The most promising candidate the Fleet has ever seen is one Andrew "Ender" Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), and Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), the school's leader, is eager to fast track him to eventual command of the fleet. For unbeknownst to the population at large, the Formics are massing for war once again.
"Critical" Analysis: There are a lot of franchise hopes riding on Ender's Game, the once "unfilmable" adaptation of Orson Scott Card's bestselling 1985 book. There are now 13 novels in the Ender series, which no doubt had the suits at Summit and Lionsgate seeing floating dollar signs like they were in an old Merrie Melodies cartoon.
Time will tell, but I think the odds of more Ender movies are pretty slim. It isn't that Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld (as fellow student Petra) don't have good chemistry, or that Ford isn't up to the task (we even have a Finger of Doom sighting!), or that the visuals aren't most impressive. I even liked Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham, the legendary pilot who apparently learned alien fighting tactics from Randy Quaid in Independence Day. I just don't think the message will have the same impact.
In 1985, child soldiers weren't unheard of, but the idea of them fighting and dying as part of some wider military effort was still alien to most of us, which was why the novel packed such a punch. What's even more problematic is director Gavin Hood's decision to water down the details in order to obtain that lucrative PG-13 rating. The film is significantly less violent than its source material, which is a disservice to the narrative as well as the audience. These kids are supposedly going to war, but their training exercises seem more like elaborate zero gravity paintball matches.
The special effects are also a hindrance, but not for the reason you'd expect. The final training sequences, with Ender, Petra, and company at Command College preparing for battle, are impressive. Unfortunately, they end up softening the final reveal (I won't spoil anything, but come on - the book's 28 freaking years old), which is unveiled in such a muted fashion I honestly think some of the audience may not grasp what's going on.
Should you go see Ender's Game? Based on the film itself, I'd rate it a solid "meh." It's hard to believe teenagers in this day and age would be too impressed, but pre-adolescents might find it compelling. Fans of the book probably won't be too happy with the diluted Battle School sequences, the abruptness of the ending, or the way Hood whiffs on the Big Twist.
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Then there are also those of you who will avoid the movie because of Card himself. I don't usually spend much time on the personality or political stances of the people involved in the films I review. For me, the analysis should focus overwhelmingly on what's up on the screen. But Card has put himself out there enough -- with his denouncing of gay marriage, the "homosexual activist agenda," and evolution -- to make it hard to separate the creator from his creation. Whatever the case, maybe you'd just rather not line the guy's pockets any more (good luck with that: the last estimate I heard, in 2012, was that the book had sold more than two million copies).
Then again, sources close to the movie report that -- thanks to having signed his deal years ago -- Card won't see any profits of the back end of the film. Of course, "sources close to the movie" are likely to try and minimize hits to the bottom line.
Reconciling the fact that plenty of great art was created by people you wouldn't piss on if they were on fire is a tricky proposition. Can you enjoy Rosemary's Baby (or, perhaps more relevantly, The Pianist) even knowing what you do about Roman Polanski? Richard Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite, do we throw out Die Nibelungen because of that (or do we let him off the hook because he's dead)? Or maybe you're conservative; does that turn you off to Springsteen's music? Do you boycott 30 Rock because of Alec Baldwin?
I'm not arguing that Card should get a pass. That's up to you. What I will say is that Ender's Game the movie just isn't that great. If that makes your decision easier, happy to be of service.