by Bob Garver
Nov. 4, 2013. It’s hard to take movies like “Ender’s Game” seriously when they make it obvious early on that they’re building to a huge surprise at the end. As if the title and the name of the main character weren’t enough of a clue, there’s an early scene where we see Ender (Asa Butterfield) use a last-minute ploy to win a video game battle against a bully who had been soundly beating him for the whole match.
The scene drills it into our head that he is going to do something in the last minute of the movie that will negate a lot of what came before it. Maybe everything that came before it. It’s no surprise that there’s a surprise, but I was surprised by how much I liked the surprise. I later decided that the reason I liked the surprise was that I hadn’t much cared for the rest of the movie and it was good news when something came along to shatter the setup.
The movie takes place in the future where much of the planet has been destroyed by aliens (many films don’t think we’d fare well in our first alien invasion). We fought them off, but we need to be prepared for their return. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is one of the many who want to defend the planet someday. Ender starts out on Earth where he’s good at video games, but yearns to do something greater. He then goes to a school in outer space where he’s good at laser tag, but yearns to do something greater. He then goest to a school on another planet to play a really elaborate video game and if he does well there, he’ll finally be able to do something greater. The film refers to these training activities with fancy terminology like “battle simulations,” but come on, it’s laser tag and video games.
Ender is selected for these constant promotions by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) who, even at the preliminary Earth School, is convinced that Ender will be the next great defender of the human race. As a result, all his attention for the entire movie seems to be on Ender. As a matter of fact, all of everybody’s attention seems to be on Ender. It’s laughably rare for any of the other students to get a word in edgewise.
The film is based on a book, and on paper the characters can get away with this kind of interaction because we can’t see a room full of students being ignored in favor of Ender. But on screen it looks weird and the adults come off as downright neglectful.
Speaking of adults, the film doesn’t quite know how to use them either. The exception is Ford, who is adequately menacing and memorable. Between this and his performance as Branch Rickey in “42” this has been a good year for him. But Viola Davis is completely wasted as a major serving under Graff. Ben Kingsley looks like he’s ready to turn the movie on its head as a war hero mentor to Ender, but disappointingly little comes of his involvement. The film can, however, boast a scene stealer in Nonso Anozie. He’s a drill sergeant with a booming voice that commands respect, fear and jealousy – as in “I wish I had your voice sir!”
The film has a decent ending, which means I left in a better mood and if the good five minutes had some at the beginning and then fizzled out. But the main character gets too much attention for someone who frankly isn’t that interesting and too much of the plot revolves around laser tag and video games. from schooling to battle training to recreation to dreams.
I guess what I’m saying is that “Ender’s Game” would have been a better movie if it had less Ender and fewer games.
Two stars out of five.