“Ender’s Game” Movie Review

     Director Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) takes on the challenging task of bringing Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel “Ender’s Game” to the big screen and for the most part succeeds by delivering a watchable spectacle which slowly fizzles out by the film’s third act.  I haven’t read the book, so as I looked at “Ender’s Game”, I had no preconceived notions or expectations.  It’s one of those experiences where I’m either pleasantly surprised by what to me is a new and original science fiction film, or the film falls short, victimized by the use of far too much inspiration from classics like “Star Wars” or “Blade Runner”.  Hood’s film moves at a slower clip than one might expect.  Choosing instead to delve into the detailed personality traits of the lead character, Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), in an attempt to sell his viability as a leader and hero.  What’s sacrificed is a massive amount of screen time that would seem to require, at minimum, a climactic conclusion that justifies the investment in the character.  Unfortunately, this kind of payoff never arrives, leaving a number of unresolved issues and questions regarding the outcome.

     In an alien attack in the not too distant future, an otherworldly species called the Formics come to Earth and attempt to colonize the planet by wiping out the human race.  The humans persevere and defeat the Formics, who flee back to their dying home planet.  Following this ordeal, the world unites and creates the International Military, who is charged with defending the planet should the Formics return.  Fast forward 70 years and the world has definitely seen it’s share of advances in technology, particularly in space travel.  Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), along with his assistant Major Anderson (Viola Davis), are charged with recruiting and training the next leader of the military who will ultimately command the Earth’s army against the Formics. 

     We are let on early that many before him have failed, but Graff and Anderson have a clear interest in Ender Wiggin, a young teenager whose siblings have each been recruited but were told they didn’t have what it takes to succeed in the program.  Graff crafts a number of tests that are said to measure Ender’s response to several emotionally charged situations.  Does he keep calm in the heat of battle?  Does he know his enemy?  Does his tactical thinking enable him to outsmart his opponent and prevent future attacks?  Hood spends an incredible amount of screen time playing out these various situations which Ender typically accomplishes to the liking of Graff and results in quick promotions from the lower levels of the training to the final stage called Battle School.  Some of these scenes tackle issues ranging from bullying to guilt and all of them are presented in a military style environment populated with kids.  There are only three adults in the film with significant screen time as the filmmakers choose instead to concentrate on the relationships fostered by the experiences Ender has as he climbs the proverbial ladder.

     For many, the relationships Ender has within these schools as well as the tasks at hand will remind you of the “Harry Potter” films, but instead of 8 films needed to show the main characters growth, we get about an hour and a half.  Even one of the main testing scenarios, a large orb above the Earth’s atmosphere that has competitors floating in zero gravity as they attempt to make it from a gate on one side to a gate on the other side while avoiding adversary forces, will remind you of the “Quidditch” competitions in the Potter films. Your liking of the story will probably hedge on whether or not you can buy into these quick promotions through the ranks given to Ender and if you can truly see him as the leader he is billed as when the film concludes.

     Once training is completed in Battle School, Ender is sent to what he is told to be one of the Formics forward operating posts that was used in the previous war and now occupied by Earth’s army.  There he meets Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), the hero in the first war and now a sort of mentor to Ender.  He is told this is the final stage in which he will need to prove through intense and realistic scenarios that he is ready to become the Battle Commander and lead the International Military to the Formics home planet and stop the threat once and for all. 

     As I said previously, a reasonable person will have many questions about how these events unfold.  If the hero in the previous war is still alive, why not have him lead the attack on the Formics?  Wouldn’t his vast experience trump the skills of a 12 year old who can’t possibly comprehend what he’s up against?  What about Colonel Graff himself?  If he’s charged with recruitment and training, wouldn’t he be confident enough in his own skills and training to lead what is billed as such an important mission?  It’s not like Ender is a child with some special ability, rather he appears to be fairly normal for his age with penchant for excelling in video games. 

     On that note, Apple certainly now has a few ideas if they want to innovate the tablet computer further than it is now since the iPad like device Ender plays games on can be controlled with his mind.  The designers and special effects crews at Digital Domain definitely did their part in creating a slick production design depicting some likely advances in the way we will someday live our lives.  Had “Gravity” not come out just a few weeks earlier, the visuals in “Ender’s Game” likely would’ve pact a much bigger visceral punch.  As is, the film is a serviceable entertainment that will likely leave the masses a bit disappointed.  GRADE: C