Directed by Gavin Hood, ‘Ender’s Game’ is the long-awaited adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s novel of the same name (which was released in 1985). It’s been 50 years after an ant-like species known as the Formics attacked Earth. Thanks to the heroics of fighter pilot Mazer Rackman (Ben Kingsley), all would have been lost. But, it wasn’t enough – the Earthlings are still concerned about another attack and have created a battle school for kids in the hopes of finding their next great leader. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) believes that Ender Weggin (Asa Butterfield) is the chosen one – I thought Neo from ‘The Matrix’ was the chosen one? Then, there is Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) who wants to know what’s inside the boy’s head. Ender is taken away from his family (his sister is played by Abigail Breslin) and taken to a military training station – one in orbit around Earth. There, he meets a bunch of kids – none of whom register as fully fleshed out characters. Ender must contend with the escalating intensity of his training and the consequences of his actions and decisions – yes, he might be Earth’s only chance against the potential return of an alien invasion. *shrug*
‘Ender’s Game’ was the top movie at the box office this past weekend – that doesn’t surprise me. There are fans of the novel who rushed out to see it opening weekend. I’m hoping ‘Thor: The Dark World’ dominates the box office this weekend – I don’t know if the Marvel picture will be a good one, but at least it would substantially reduce the possibility of there ever being a sequel to ‘Ender’s Game’. The picture feels like the table-setting first chapter in a series; but even with a production budget of $110 , ‘Ender’s Game’ would have to prove to be a significant return on investment in order for those sequels to take place. Let me be clear about this – I do not want any sequels to ‘Ender’s Game’.
But to review the picture as is – How/why/ wherefore did the movie turn out this way? How does a movie like ‘Gravity’ (with its comparable $100 million budget) get bumped just weeks after its release by ‘Ender’s Game’?
‘Ender’s Game’ is rated PG-13 for “some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material”. Whatever – this is aimed at the pubescent masses to keep them occupied until November 22nd, 2013, which is when the new ‘Hunger Games’ movie opens. But nothing of any consequence happens in this expensive looking picture until the plot takes a ridiculous twist. At this point in the movie, issues such as the immorality of war and its preventive measures lend second-hand depth to a needlessly complicated story.
To begin with, I simply didn’t buy the premise. Why are these kids the best option Earth has? Is it because they play a lot of video games and could thus strategize an impenetrable attack? I’m willing to suspend disbelief often – especially, in a genre such as this; but, I felt Mr. Hood didn’t supply me with a reason to believe in this concept.
To make matters worse, ‘Ender’s Game’ squanders an extremely talented cast; there is Asa Butterfield who played the blank-faced boy in ‘Hugo’. His character is supposed to be in command but I found him to be insufferable; there is nothing likable about his manipulative qualities. Abigail Breslin isn’t given much to work with. Hailee Steinfeld is only there as a potential love interest that sees greatness in Ender. Viola Davis is only there because the frown-faced Harrison Ford needs someone to bark at. The only thing Sir Ben Kingsley has going for him is his heavily tattooed face which rivals that of Mike Tyson; that aside, most of his time is spent staring into space from a skybox watching Ender in action.
What does Graff see in Ender? What makes Ender so brilliant? Why is he able to move up the ranks quicker than any of his battle school colleagues? Ah, it must be because Harrison Ford’s character says so repeatedly – “It is what he was born for.” I didn’t get the sense that Ender was a smart kid. He approaches a roadblock with the same level of creativity and methodical thinking that any eleven year old gamer would: “If X does not work, I will try Y. Y doesn’t work either. Is there a Z?”
We should feel that there is something at stake in ‘Ender’s Game’. Not the case. The movie is filled with more training montages than ‘Rocky IV’ – they provide minimal excitement not just because they are overcrowded war-game simulations but because we don’t know what exactly these characters are being prepared for. What is this picture building towards?
‘Ender’s Game’ is one of the most humorless pictures I’ve ever seen – it takes itself way too seriously; there is absolutely no levity. The only laughs present are that of the unintentional variety. ‘Ender’s Game’ wants to be in a similar space (puns always intended) to ‘Starship Troopers’ – a movie that was able to capture some of the satirical elements of the book. Unfortunately, a tale of this complexity is not best suited for a 114-minute motion picture. Maybe it would have worked better as a mini-series. Maybe. Probably not. The movie’s zero gravity setting doesn’t excuse it from having zero humor, zero drama, and zero thrills. Zero stars from me…Zzzzero. QED.