The book – authored by sci-fi forefather Orson Scott Card – is a classic. It’s somewhat surprising, then, that a film adaptation took so long to materialize. Perhaps this stems from the fact that the novel is a hard book to synopsize; it draws from decades’ worth of coming-of-age literature and military fiction, but co-opts their standard tropes into something original and unique. The film is the same way (though to a lesser degree – some of the better-conceived subplots have been purged or trimmed).
Following a near-catastrophic attack by the inscrutable alien “Formics,” Earth’s planetary defense leadership (under the command of Colonel Hiram Graff – played by a fantastic Harrison Ford) initiates a training program for promising young battlefield commanders. Among these potentials is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a boy with a brilliant tactical mind and unflappable psyche. Through a series of increasingly rigorous wargames, Ender’s skills are honed for an ultimate confrontation against the Formic army.
Despite the fact that big-budget science-fiction blockbusters have been dominating cinema screens for the last twenty years or so, “Ender’s Game” feels fresh and creative in its storytelling. This is further amplified by fantastic art direction, musical scoring, and visual effects (the space battles look absolutely amazing, and are everything fans of the book might’ve desired). And of course, the cast is everything book aficionados might’ve wished for.
That being said, the movie isn’t without its flaws. Ender’s character development leaves a good deal to be desired (e.g. Ender’s compassion is a focal point of the plot, but this is never convincingly established onscreen; when Ender actually displays a rare emotional reaction, it never feels truly genuine or organic), and some of the novel’s famous plot twists don’t quite get the buildup they deserve.
(Most unfortunately of all, the Peter/Valentine political subtext has been culled…but viewers who aren’t familiar with the source material won’t miss this.)
Most of these gripes might’ve been readily resolved with a longer runtime – this is one film that, surprisingly, deserves an extended cut. As it stands, though, “Ender’s Game” is a good but not particularly memorable movie. It’s probably safe to say that the movie will never become a genre-defining classic like the book. (Given the novel’s cult-classic status, it’s it’s not hard to imagine “Ender’s Game” being remade thirty or forty years from now. If a premium cable channel were to pick it up as a miniseries, that also might be a solid bet.)
All that being said, “Ender’s Game” is still worthwhile entertainment. Content issues are negligible, and it asks some interesting philosophical questions that most blockbusters don’t touch (I won’t say more for fear of spoilers), even if these aren’t probed as thoroughly as one might like. Longtime fans of the book might grumble over some editorial exclusions, but less nitpicky audiences will certainly enjoy this film.
A solid, but not groundbreaking, sci-fi adventure. Satisfying for fans of the novel, but probably not “the definitive adaptation.”
Normalized Score: 3.4
Postscript – a quick word on the proposed boycott of this movie, stemming from Card’s opposition to same-sex marriage: I think boycotts are stupid in general, whether they’re suggested by the left or the right – and particularly so when they implicate otherwise neutral goods and services. No matter what side of the marriage issue one comes down on, there’s literally nothing ideologically offensive here. If “Ender’s Game” is a movie you wish to see, watch it.
For what it’s worth, I still drink Starbucks, snack on Ben and Jerry’s, eat Chick-fil-A, and generally don’t make a habit of feeling guilty about any of it. Life’s too short.