As they tend to do, the Aliens have attacked. Millions would die and were it not for the noble sacrifice of an amazing hero, they might've won. But just because this enemy was put down does not mean they will not come back. We cannot allow them the opportunity to attack us again, and in director Gavin Hood's adaptation of Orson Scott Card's novel 'Ender's Game', we will experience a rather odd way that the powers that be have of defending our planet.
It appears that modern warfare in the future will look very similar to that of a videogame. The twitch reflexes, the morphing environments, the ever changing scenarios… and children are far better at playing videogames than just about anybody, thus the front line of this modern warfare will be headed up by adolescents and teenagers. Today's youth of concern will be Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), and while I don't recall anyone telling me how old Ender is, but we imagine him to be around fifteen.
Ender has caught the eye of the commander of this school of gifted children destined for genocide, in one Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and he believes he sees in Ender exactly what he has been looking for. He puts the boy through a couple of designed tests to see how he functions under pressure, or against difficult odds, or faced with abject failure, and Ender comes through every time, just as Colonel Graff figured he would.
Now it's off to the space station to train with other supremely gifted children who I assumed have passed Graff's mental torture test. Our students will train, and train, and train some more. They will train in zero gravity, they train in the art of team warfare, they will train in hand to hand combat, Ender will share an 'Officer and a Gentlemen' moment with a really angry Black
drill sergeant (Nonso Anozie) and then they will train some more. Ender will meet a pretty girl (Halee Stansfield) with whom he will train and he will also meet at extremely angry young man in Bonzo (Moises Arias) who will not want Ender to train with him. If you haven't figured it out by now, if you like watching kids train in preparation of doing something that you have no idea of what this something is, 'Ender's Game' is your movie.
Despite a few setbacks, Ender is exactly what the Colonel thought he would be. Which, of course, leads to Ender being taken to another remote location and will lead to more training. More or less. It's the 'more or less' than kind of throws Ender's world into a bit of a spiral.
I'm not sure exactly what to make of Gavin Hood's 'Ender's Game'. I mean… as basic entertainment it is functional. Yes, a large portion of the movie does consist of watching young Ender train, and while I wouldn't call these sequences scintillating, they weren't boring either. One would think, that after a while, this would become tedious but the movie is gorgeous to look at which might've served to deflect some of the tedium that we would've experienced watching the plethora of training sequences.
The performances were also… well… functional. Asa Butterfield was tasked with covering a gamut of emotions as Ender, and it was a challenge the young actor had trouble with at times. He certainly did oppressed bewilderment well, but the audience is asked to buy into Ender, eventually, as a leader of men and women, and I'm not sure I ever got that feeling for this character. The other adult actors, no less luminaries than Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and the wonderful Viola Davis were fairly one dimensional, with Ms. Davis in particular being wasted as the staff psychologist who did little but whine in the four or five scenes she was in.
It's the bigger picture of 'Ender's Game' where my confusion comes to play. One that may actually force me to pick up Card's book to clear some things up. It looked they were making the alien invaders, insect-like creatures called the Formics, seem not as bad as the Unified Earth brass were making them out to be. As if they could be reasoned with on some level, but then these are the same creatures that invaded the Earth, so should we be sympathetic to these creatures? The concept of child soldiers in a civilized society is unacceptable, that much we understand, this being what this particular reality has resorted to, knowing full well that your average fifteen year old boy has to be prompted to change his underwear daily, much less be expected to have the maturity to lead an invasion, virtual or otherwise, on an alien planet. And then, of course, deal with the aftermath. But the bottom line, I guess, is that these creatures did invade the planet Earth and kill millions. Maybe? Unless of course the invasion never happened. It was murky. I'm sure the book offers clarity that the movie wasn't interested in providing.
Again, 'Ender's Game' was functional entertainment, though there seemed to be larger issues the filmmakers where trying to integrate, but unfortunately got loss in the gloss of the CGI.