The Good: Special effects, Moments of morality/philosophy that are explored
The Bad: Lack of compelling character elements, Mediocre performances, Predictable storyline
The Basics: Ender’s Game is a blasé big-budget, special-effects-driven science fiction movie that is not worth the viewer’s time and attention, regardless of the social issues surrounding its author.
Whenever I review a film, I take great pains to contemplate the work in front of me and only that. Each film (even sequels) is viewed as a standalone project and I try to stick to that, often putting forth a disclaimer in the reviews that the work, if it is based upon a book series, is a pure review of the film alone, if I have never read the book. That is perfectly appropriate with my review of the film Ender’s Game. However, I find myself unable to limit my review to just the film’s content.
Every now and then, I find myself seriously late to the party. As a constant activist for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights since my time in high school (over two decades ago), I try to keep abreast of current events, but I tend to be very focused on politics. I have a tendency to ignore celebrities because they say a lot of shit and for me, the politics of equality is usually focused on getting information on Bills, voting records, and key personalities (and, sadly, trying to understand how such dangerous people became so powerful seemingly overnight without the Left either catching them early or breeding a leader of equal or greater charisma and intelligence of their own!). So, it was not until after I screened the new film Ender’s Game that I actually learned of the fairly massive boycott going on in relation to the film’s release. Mark Vaughn wrote a terrific article that I highly recommend to anyone looking for a solid, social reason to avoid Ender’s Game (that article is right here, click now and go there to read it!). Apparently, the author of the book series that began with Ender’s Game and that the film Ender’s Game is based upon is a pretty vocal homophobe with not only backwards, but entirely hateful thoughts that he freely expresses and donates funds to the dissemination of. Vaughn in his article rightly ties the purchase of Orson Scott Card works to supporting hate speech; I wish I had read it before screening the film. In my defense, outside the plea of ignorance, all I can offer is that I did not pay to watch the film and I didn’t even buy snacks at the screening.
Beyond the powerful social reasons not to support Ender’s Game, as a critic, it was remarkably easy not to recommend the film: it’s pretty boring eye candy that is all but ruined by the trailers for the film. The film’s trailers give one an accurate example of the scope and speed of the special effects – which are suitably magnificent – and gloss over how much time is spent with surprisingly dull military lessons and combat jargon. In other words, the exciting parts are in the trailer, it accurately telegraphs the plot and most of the rest of Ender’s Game is just boring.
Set in the future, after the Earth has been savaged by the aliens known as the Buggers, the International Military is desperate to prevent the remainder of humanity from being wiped out. Convinced that the Buggers will return to obliterate what is left of Earth and the human race, children are being trained by the International Military as soldiers to fight the seemingly inevitable next wave of invasion. One of the new conscripts, Ender Wiggin, stands out at Battle School. During his training, he exhibits three-dimensional thinking abilities and a tactical mind that are uncommon. He is tapped by Colonel Graff to progress to Command School.
Guided by Graff, Mazer Rackham, and Major Anderson, Ender becomes the chosen soldier to lead the human armada through the fantastic battle that will decide the fate of Earth and humanity against the more advanced alien aggressors.
The first problem with Ender’s Game is in the tactics. Why the military employs powerful individuals like Graff and Anderson, but seems to have no one on staff who thinks three-dimensionally like a child is utterly inconceivable. The tactic that would be truly different for a less powerful force deterring a more advanced one is guerilla warfare and that type of combat is difficult in space. To be sure, Ender’s Game does illustrate that type of thinking at some points – most notably with the way ships use the asteroid belt for cover – but too much of the combat comes down to brute force; ships firing relentlessly, massive explosions, and a tired, familiar, sense of strategy that does not seem at all like it came from a military prodigy.
Then there is Harrison Ford. Does Harrison Ford have something in his contracts these days where he limits the number of smiles he delivers in a film to three (or less)? Ever since Morning Glory (reviewed here!), Ford seems obsessed with playing the same surly, gruff, growling character in different settings. It’s astonishing to see a man who built his career on possessing and displaying a remarkable innate charisma use none of it, but in Ender’s Game, he just comes across as miserable. If Ford’s Graff is best described as “miserable,” Sir Ben Kingsley’s Mazer Rackham is best described as flat and dull. It’s not been a good year for Kingsley, whatwith his Mandarin in Iron Man 3 (reviewed here!) being reduced to a punchline. In Ender’s Game he does not even get to deliver the film’s joke.
And it’s not a funny film at all. Plodding and serious, the only hope for Ender’s Game is in its philosophical lessons that seem – fortunately – to be divorced from many of Orson Scott Card’s personal beliefs. The International Military is desperate and Ender’s Game has an “ends justify the means” philosophy to it that is presented starkly and oppressively. When director Gavin Hood – who adapted the screenplay from the book for this film – is not beating viewers over the head with how the military-industrial complex will do whatever it has to in order to survive and dominate, he’s flashing big special effects sequences that try to distract the viewer from the rational understanding they have come to about the methods employed by the people fighting. It’s like watching Blood Diamond (reviewed here!) and understanding rationally just how terrible the diamond trade is, but then being shown thousands of images of diamond rings . . . oooh, shiny! But wait, child enslavement, drug peddling to minors, rape camps . . . . oooh, shiny!
Asa Butterfield is unremarkable as Ender Wiggins. Butterfield is an adequate child actor, but as Ender, he fails to capture and portray an underlying intelligence in the reclusive character that makes the viewer actually believe that he could be the savior others talk about Ender as.
The net result is that for politics or entertainment reasons, Ender’s Game is easy enough to pass by. The studio is, no doubt, banking on the press to bolster the idea that the film must be seen on a big screen to truly be appreciated, but they are hoping that it won’t be pointed out that the underlying movie has to be worth seeing regardless of the effects sequences. Ender’s Game is not.
For other works with Abigail Bresslin, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
August: Osage County
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |