Considering its difficult road from page to screen, writer-director Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” delivers an exciting, coherent story about teenagers on the front lines of a galactic battle. This is a smartly rendered story that does justice to Card’s 1985 young adult novel, and both the young actors led by Asa Butterfield and the veterans top-listed by Harrison Ford are in fighting form.
Butterfield, who debuted so promisingly two years ago in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” stars as Ender Wiggin, a smart and tactically aggressive teenager who is tapped for leadership in the world’s continuing war against an alien invading force. It’s a war that has gone on for half a century, and the nature of war technology in Ender’s time is so close to video games that teenagers are considered the best people to fight what has become a remote-controlled conflict.
Under the tough direction of Col. Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and Maj. Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), the best recruits are sent into space for training and trials, and the nature of military lifestyle and the teens’ raging hormones means that competition for the top spots gets nasty and personal. But Ender and his sparring partner, Petra Arkanian (Hailee Steinfeld of “True Grit”), quickly rise in both their skills and the estimation of Graff and Anderson, and soon they are pushed into front-line positions, where their acumen is tested against the high standards and extraordinary record of Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), the most famous fighter in this long, long war.
Hood certainly gets the look right: Much like “Minority Report,” the future world depicted in “Ender’s Game” looks enough like present-day Earth to make the technological extrapolations believable. But the performances and storytelling are what really count. Hood keeps the plot moving straight and forward in a way that will please fans of the novel, and Butterfield is able to share scenes with heavyweights like Ford and Kingsley and still hold his own as an actor.
“Ender’s Game” might not completely connect all of its logical threads, though, since viewers are called to accept that teenagers are simply the best choice without much justification. But the film does explore some of the ethical ramifications of the prosecution of the war, the militaristic nature of this future society and the way in which children are pitted against one another in a “Lord of the Flies”-style battle of psychological and physical will to determine who has the right stuff. It offers plenty of effects and excitement, but “Ender’s Game” also will offer plenty of opportunity for parents and children to discuss whether Ender Wiggin’s survival-of-the-fittest society is something to fight for.
— George Lang