Review: Ender’s Game

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— by ADAM DALE —

Author Orson Scott Card’s popular young adult novel “Ender’s Game” is part of a series of books – 18 and counting – and a film adaptation has been nearly 28 years in the making. It turns out the wait was worthwhile as the feature film is filled with spectacular effects, amazing performances and complex characters. This is a movie that truly engages the audience and draws us into a story which is just as politically motivated and thought provoking today as the day it was written.

“Ender’s Game” – which was considered unfilmable for nearly three decades due to the majority of the film taking place in space, with enormous battles and zero gravity fights between kids – is a triumph. This is a fun film for the whole family and definitely a contender for the replacement franchise Summit has been seeking following the completion of “The Twilight Saga.”

Directed by Gavin Hood, “Ender’s Game” is a movie that has so many relevant themes surrounding war, leadership, bullying, a child’s ability to deal with conflict and the costs of war that it’s bound to engage children and adults alike in valuable conversations afterwards.

“Ender’s Game” takes place in a near future where the world has been ravaged by attacks from a bug-like alien race. Humans survived solely because of the bravery and smarts of one man, Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), who figured out how to stop the swarms in the last invasion. Decades later, a system has been in place where the youngest and brightest strategic minds are placed into a school to develop their skills to become the commanders and leaders of the forces of Earth against any impending attacks.

We see a young, awkward boy Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is being closely monitored by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford). He is trying to find a balance between his intellect and his habits of violence. Not wanting to become like his older brother, Ender listens to his gentle and perceptive sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) who helps to clear his head.

Ender is soon pulled out of the Academy and sent into the orbital station to Battle School, where he is purposefully isolated and observed by Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) who is responsible for examining his emotional stability and well being. However, Graff believes he is the one to lead this army of intelligent children into battle and he must test him first.

With some personal demons to work-out, Ender must embrace his instincts and forge on through the struggles as he is immediately seen as young and weak by the elder recruits. He makes a few friends, but immediately bonds with Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) who trains him in the zero gravity battle room where he shines an eventually moves up the ranks to become commander. With the biggest test being a final battle simulation to prove himself worthy, Ender must make life or death decisions in the most complicated simulation ever and see if he truly has what it takes to be humanity’s hero.

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This film is a spectacle and not only would I suggest you see it in IMAX like I did, I would say that it helped intensify these gigantic aerial battles where upon hundreds and thousands of alien ships swarmed through the skies in some pretty epic sequences. The visuals were great, but the story and performances are what really sold me on this film.

Ender is a one of the most complicated teen characters I have seen on the big screen in a long time. He seems calculated and emotionless, and then has fits of rage and sadness. The multi-dimensional aspects of this character — and the very subtle way in which Asa Butterfield plays the character — are flawless and help to really sell a character who could come across as unlikable at first.

Harrison Ford and Viola Davis are the perfect ying and yang of authority. Colonel Graff is cold and emotionless in his pursuit to find the perfect kid to win the war and is balanced by Gwen Anderson’s love and compassion for the mental well being of all the children in the program. It was a pleasure to see Harrison Ford’s return to this genre, though in a completely opposite role compared to Han Solo in the “Star Wars” franchise.

A few of my other favorites in the cast were Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld, both of whom both play female figures in Ender’s life who give him knowledge and love. I thought the chemistry between Steinfeld and Butterfield was just as present as it needed to be without going into inappropriate territory for their ages.

I went into “Ender’s Game” not knowing a lot about the actual story and I found it easy to follow and fun to watch. An amalgamation of genre films, it’s a space movie, war movie, sci-fi adventure, a movie for gamers and blockbuster rolled into one. You will be surprised at the level of empathy you feel for these kids with the extreme tests that they are put through, and the decisions that these barely pubescent minds must deal with and with such high stakes, the fate of humanity.

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With top-notch visual effects, a compelling story, a multi-tiered compound of relationships and characters to root for, this film was a long time coming but definitely worth the wait. This is a movie that the whole family can see and that parents will actually enjoy — a double win.

In the words of Ender Wiggin himself, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”

“Ender’s Game” — rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi action and thematic materials — hits theaters Nov. 1. The film also stars Moises Arias, Aramis Knight, Conor Carroll and Jimmy Pinchak.

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