Take The Bachelor, launch it into outer space, and you tell me that’s not Ender’s Game.
Instead of one man looking for his mate, it’s an army: the International Fleet, searching future Earth for a hero. This sophisticated interstellar force is propelled at the highest levels by commanding adults; of course then, it needs to find some kid to save itself and the whole human race from a goliath extinction event.
The airy fun of Ender’s Game rushes across unfathomable distances – disappears completely, at times – resurfacing for a conclusion that holds the promise of a sequel like a Ziploc’d chef’s salad in a clammy kangaroo pouch.
The movie’s based on Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which began as a short story before expanding into a stellar novel. Here’s the premise: Earth? Yeahhhhhh, not doinsohot. It prepares now for what hundreds of millions who died during the first Formic invasion didn’t, because how could they? The Formics, their surprise onslaught in 2086 was devastating. It would’ve been apocalyptic if not for Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) catching an Independence Day re-run the night before the big fight.
I mean, he had to’ve! Saving that day, Rackham flew his conventional fighter jet on an impossible trajectory, up and into the Formic’s mothership like a 1996 randy Quaid.
Rackham up, knock ’em down, dominoes. And like ka-doosh ka-doosh ka-doosh, these ant-ish extraterrestrials scurried away, defeated. I guess you might call that the first fight. But what about all the other fights sure to come? To ready, International Fleet brass and key personnel systematically crawl (what’s left of) the planet for top-tier child soliders to defend against the (wishy washy) reality of a second attack. The skill they’re looking for? It’s a sci-fi sort of “being young,” and seriously, it’s impossible to master over time. You almost get worse.
Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) thinks he’s found The One in Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield). What an awful rose ceremony though, watching Ender get selected for Battle School. It’s clear the Wigginses can bug out and protest as much as they want: doesn’t matter, because Graff and the IF get what they want. The brightest of the children, the Earth’s young stars – like Ender – are just expected to give of themselves to the Fleet for the greater good. Not to mention: Ender’s a third child, and on post-Formic Earth, two’s pretty much the limit – any more requires government permission.
Graff & Maj. Gwen Anderson (the maternal Viola Davis) interrupt dinner at home. Ender and his family company are shocked to hear that, no, Ender’s not there because he flunked out of training; he’s back in his own room because failure was the final test. A contemplative rail-thin recruit, Wiggin tries to put it all together, sitting outside to talk with Graff. The sense he was not going to head for Battle School? Never got that.
The IF mobilizes Ender and kids like him, grooming them in Battle School and Combat School. It’s grim and Machiavellian, but hey: the globe’s at risk from an hostile exoskeletal alien clan. They invaded once – nearly conquered – and therefore are going to invade again. It’s a sure thing, Miguel.
Except will they? The Formics are mysterious and incapable of speech or communication. Characters in Ender’s Game remind us ad nauseum they “do not understand” these almost-overlords. Among other obviously bigger deals, enemy ships and flight patterns don’t really make sense. We’re lead to believe Earth’s ripest hopes, these young’uns, couldn’t translate that meaningfully either. When laid to scrutiny by Ender himself, the savior of the species (our species), results are only mixed. Even he’s flummoxed.
So much of this movie is nonsense. Remind me: how’s one clash with alien titans changed the game like this? OK, Colonel Graff, “young people integrate complex data faster than adults” is not cutting the freeze-dried astronaut mustard. Adult audiences but maybe kids also would care for a neater reason. Craving a decent covering of the
spaces bases, I’m not happy with the film’s rationale.
Like Dwight Shrute’s wild oats, screenwriter Gavin Hood sows crucial plot points willy nilly throughout its 114 minute run time. You’ll find them scattered more coherently than many of the asteroids in this Milky Way (setting the bar down low).
Fortunately, a warm body from Britain named Asa Butterfield kept me into it. Holy Moses, can he act. His Ender was just magnetic! The writing for Ender’s character specifically – how he talks, operates, and sees things – would have been good regardless. Butterfield just blew me out of the water with his vulnerability and honesty. The struggle seemed credible, his journey as this important young boy-man: absolutely watchable.
The plot, it’s a doozy. I encountered cosmically awesome scenes, spaced between a smattering of more fast-forward worthy moments. Take Battle School. It’s where young recruits who have completed the evaluation stage train, in teams, executing complicated strategies for close quarters combat in zero gravity.
Things ramp up when Petra Arkanian (Hailee Steinfeld) and Ender meet there after he’s unexpectedly promoted. Ender becomes her teammate after he brutally murders a fictional character in a video game via “cerebral control,” a fancy future mechanism allowing the user to basically become a digital rat in this fantasy game-world on a tablet computer. Turns out, Graff and Anderson are watching Ender play. Impressed, they send him to the Salamander army: the best team in school.
The Salamanders are No. 1, haven’t lost a battle at Battle School, and they’re kept toe-in-line by a Napoleonic bowlegged shit bird: the menacing Bonzo. Bonzo won’t let Ender play for the Salamanders, let alone practice with Petra in his free time. But it’s just irresistible, watching Ender work over Bonzo with his cunning. It’s the same thing we watch him do from beginning to end; his synapses must be closer together or something. He’s quick.
Whether it’s his strategy to cap the Salamanders with his own misfit army at Battle School; whether it’s his promotion to Command School and diligent pursuit of wicked Formic insight; whether it’s sitting there wide-eyed and slack-jawed, gawking as Ender does something I can only describe as remarkable if not heinous.. Just wow.
Still. Deep down, I want to make myself a bit more like Ender. He seems to have it good. His sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) is a sweetheart. He may have a thing going with Petra, the cutie and seasoned if young lady-warrior. It has nothing to do with all the friends he won to himself, though Bean (Aramis Knight) is funny and Alai (Suraj Parthasarathy) is awful friendly. It isn’t really even his abilities, his compassion, or his composure under fire.
It’s because Ender is visionary and still chooses to follow his heart. He may not always know, but he knows not; he works backward, problem-solving, and won’t let a soul stand in his way when his gut feeling solidifies.
Oh, It’s good stuff. Ignore the lunacy, and what’s left to appreciate becomes more than enough to sustain a recommendation. Really, Ender’s Game is easy entertainment. Is it good for your brain? It must be better than The Bachelor.