Kids will be kids, until they have to lead an army into battle. Then they’re just immature adults.
An alien race called the Formics has attacked Earth, and as you could presume, the citizens of that said planet aren’t too happy. So, that’s when they decide to set-up a military school in which they will enlist pre-teens to learn the tricks of the trade, be tested, be challenged and be the best that they can truly be, so that one day, they too can get a chance to fight in the war. The reason why a school like this even exists is because the government feels as if they get kids, whose minds aren’t as developed or as complex yet, then there will be no problems whatsoever with the enlisting or training-process. However, that’s where a boy named Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), comes in a screws everything up. Not only does Ender have something special within him that lead Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) can see, but also has a bit of an open-mind to any situation he finds himself in. Sure, that impresses a lot of the instructors, but doesn’t make him the coolest kid on the playground. But, it’s fine because Ender doesn’t care, all he cares about is putting his skills to the test and see if he can take out the Formic threat once and for all. Like with most war-fare though, there do come some prices one must pay.
So yeah, a lot has been said about this movie, but then again, it’s not necessarily about the movie itself. Nope, it’s more about how author Orson Scott Card himself was a bit of a loony and took it upon himself to let everybody know that he’s homophobic. Personally, whatever the guy wants to say or do, is fine by me. Sure, he may be a bit shallow and narrow-minded, but he’s a human, he’s entitled to his opinion and quite frankly, he didn’t make this movie, so why should I care? What I should care about here is the actual movie I have on hand here, and if it actually does its job in being some sort of meeting between Harry Potter and Star Wars, as I heard it being compared as.
It doesn’t meet those standards, but it’s not a total bomb. Here’s why:
For the most part, this flick is kind of weird. Director Gavin Hood clearly knows that he’s working with some heavy-duty source-material here that may not entirely be for kids, nor may it not entirely be for the adults either. In fact, Hood himself finds a bit of a problem in trying to find a cohesive, senseless juggle between the two demographics: For the kiddies out there, we have a few scenes of other kids playing video-games, goofing around with one another and getting into tiny scuffles; as for the parents, we have all sorts of war-fare, mixed with thought-provoking ideas about the humanity kept in one’s mind during war, the act of genocide itself and war crimes. So yeah, if you like your teen, sci-fi-thriller to be mixed with plenty of social-commentary, this is definitely the film for you.
However, it doesn’t quite work out that way, all due to the fact that we never know what this movie is working-up to, nor do we know what it’s trying to say. Most of the actual interesting stuff that does occur in this movie, probably happens in the first-hour when we see Ender go through this military school, where’s he’s made an example of, gets picked on and in some ways, picks fights with fellow students. It’s also interesting, if not tonally jarring, to see a movie that so clearly makes it a point to dehumanize these kids, just so that they can be “better soldiers”. A bit scary when you think about it happening to these small, innocent kids we see on-screen, but it’s even more frightening when we realize that it is actually happening out there in the real world that we live in. In some cases, maybe even right outside your door-step.
But like I was saying though, the movie makes it a point to always “be about something”, but at the same time, never seems like it’s really going anywhere with its countless bits of action or scenes where we see a bunch of kids yelling out random codes/jargon/exposition, in order for it all to make a lick of a difference. We know that whatever threat these kids are battling, is something that may be deadly and strike them at any moment, but instead of actually seeing these kids go to war and get their hands a bit dirty, we’re just watching them go through simulations. Sure, the simulations, as well as everything else in this movie, look mighty pretty and definitely have you feel like you’re right there in the moment, but they’re just simulations. Meaning, they aren’t the real-deal, so why in the heck do we have to have a film that builds up to that, and only that?
And then, the strangest part of this movie comes through when we get a “shocker” of an ending in which we see that the government itself is up to some sheisty-dealings. Won’t give too much away as to the “how’s” and the “why’s”, but I will say that it didn’t surprise me much here. Also, the notes that the movie ends on are some pretty interesting ones that you wouldn’t quite see in something that’s as slightly aimed towards kids as this is (ideas about sacrificing thousands of fellow soldiers for the almighty “win”, risking anything and everything, etc.), but then it also seems to just straggle those ideas out, in a way to make us realize the actual tension this story is supposed to be creating. It never materials to much, other than just a bunch of smart ideas, that probably would have been better, used in a far less-messy movie. Not to say that it’s all pretty crappy, but once things begin to get heavy, then the weight of the actual story itself begins to crush all of the fun and life that’s trying to get-out.
Perhaps though, the most interesting aspect surrounding this movie is the handling of its lead character, Ender, a character whom, from what I’ve heard, isn’t the most likable protagonist in the world. I can definitely see that too, because while the kid definitely seems like his heart may be in the right place with certain decisions made here and there, somehow, there’s this under-lining sense of sociopathic behavior to be found and that comes out quite a few times in this movie. It’s not fully fleshed-out to where it provides a huge inner-issue for Ender, but is seen on occasion and makes you think that maybe he’s a bit of a nut-job that not only shouldn’t be the head of the military-force, but also shouldn’t be allowed to walk the same streets as regular-day citizens like you or I.
That’s why it seems like this character would be terribly unlikable, but he actually isn’t. Which, in a sense, is more of a credit to Asa Butterfield’s acting, rather than the way the movie portrays him, because while the kid definitely seems to be a bit of stuck-up arse that needs to always get things right, he’s not necessarily a “bad” kid, that does bad things, for bad reasons; he’s just a kid who has been thrown into a situation that he wasn’t expecting, but is more than willing to give a try. Butterfield is good here and shows that he could definitely grow-up into some real, leading-man potential in the next couple of years, but it’s mainly the character of Ender that keeps us watching this kid, all because we don’t know who he’s going to humiliate next, or who he’s going to mouth-off to either.
Like Butterfield, everybody else is good, too, it’s just that they are given some pretty shaky dialogue to work with that I don’t even Daniel Day himself would be able to handle (that’s a joke, of course he would, he’s Daniel freakin’ Day-Lewis for gosh sakes!). Harrison Ford tries, but can’t help but give a one-note performance as the Colonel who believes in Ender so much, that he’s able to growl for him whenever necessary; Viola Davis shows up for a few scenes to show that she has “humanity” because she doesn’t want these kids tested, but is basically told to “take that crap elsewhere”; Hailee Steinfeld shows that she has potential as a leading-lady in the future, but is given a lot of jargon to say and none of it really makes sense, so it would be kind of hard to decide whether or not she’s good here, based solely on that; and Ben Kingsley shows up with a whole bunch of face-tattoos that make Mike Tyson look like a wuss, and doesn’t do much here either. Nice to see him and Ford share the same screen though, even if all they do is deliver exposition when they’re around one another. A damn shame passing up an opportunity like that when you have two great talents in the same room. A damn shame.
Consensus: There may be a very strange demographic that this movie is for, but Ender’s Game can’t quite figure who or what that is, so instead, gives us all the special-effects, action, sci-fi elements and social-messages it can possibly handle, but doesn’t do much to really build towards anything that could be deemed “exciting”.
6 / 10 = Rental!!