The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Ender's Game

Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game is a classic young adult science-fiction tale. In addition to exploring the moral implications of war, it also celebrates the intelligence and ingenuity of young people. Despite being popular for more than twenty-five years, there has never been a film adaptation until now. Writer/director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) brings Ender's Game to the screen in a slightly pared-down, but still largely faithful, manner.

As is often the case in sci-fi stories, the Earth has been attacked by hostile creatures. In this case, they are known as “Formics.” Humanity was unprepared for the attack, and now the military is determined never to be caught off-guard again. They believe their best hope for breeding brilliant new strategists lies in young people, who have highly-trained instincts and reflexes thanks to videogames. One such recruit is Ender Wiggin (Hugo's Asa Butterfield). Ender is taken to Battle School, where he is trained by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and, later, war hero Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). It quickly becomes clear that Ender is Earth's last great hope in fighting off the Formics, but there is a secret that's being kept from him.

Like the book on which it is based, Ender's Game works, in part, because it's a fantastic character study. Ender Wiggin is a complex, fascinating creation. The film shows him to be something of a contradiction: he wants to please authority, yet he is also distrustful of authority figures. He pushes boundaries, especially when he thinks he knows better than his superiors. Perhaps most intriguingly, he often does know better than them. Much time is spent depicting Ender's ability to creatively strategize not only in simulated zero-gravity war games, but also in personal interactions. To test his mettle, Graff intentionally does things to put Ender at odds with his peers. Over time, he finds ways to earn their loyalty, especially that of a cadet named Petra (True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld). Seeing how the character adapts, thinks several moves ahead, and executes his plans makes for compelling entertainment, and Asa Butterfield does first-rate work in the role.

There are many surface pleasures, including imaginative visuals and original-looking special effects. (Unlike a lot of sci-fi fare, the future doesn't look cheesy!) But the arc of the story is what's most impressive. For a long while, you think Ender's Game is a straightforward tale of futuristic combat and a young boy who may be the “chosen one.” The third act features a plot twist that changes the meaning of everything that precedes it. Even if you've read the book and know what's coming, the movie does an excellent job of conveying the impact of this revelation. Card's book was designed to lull readers into a sense of security, only to pull the rug out from under them by exposing the true futility of war. The film admirably stays true to that idea.

That none of the other characters are as fully developed as Ender is a shame. This is especially true of Mazer Rackham who, with his massive facial tattoos and Zen wisdom, should have been a much bigger presence than he is. Also, because the big revelation is so powerful, the film overall would have been even stronger had it spent even more time with the repercussions of it. As it is, that scene comes in the final twenty minutes. Another ten or so would have been just about perfect to drive its meaning home to the fullest extent possible.

Ender's Game is still a smart, engaging, and fun movie, despite those little flaws. This is a case where a book has been turned into a film and, by and large, they actually managed to preserve most of what made it special.

( out of four)

Note: There's been a lot of controversy surrounding Ender's Game, with some people calling for a boycott due to Orson Scott Card's well-documented opposition to same-sex marriage and inflammatory comments about gay people. While I abhor both his personal views and the public manner in which he's expressed them, I also believe he wrote a good book, and the film version deserves to be discussed separate from his beliefs, as it is now part of the cinematic landscape. Please do not take my praise of his novel and the movie to be an endorsement of his offensive viewpoint.

Ender's Game is rated PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.

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