O Children, Lift Up Your Voice
“Ender’s Game” is one half intriguing psychological thriller and one half battle fun – except for the fun part.
Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card (who also serves as producer) and directed by Gavin Hood (“X Men Origins: Wolverine”), “Ender’s Game” is a big budget film of an unusual nature. It follows the journey of Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) as he is recruited by the International Military (I love how nations in the future get along so well) to lead the fight against the Formics, a genocidal alien race which nearly annihilated the human race 50 years prior. Like Brad Pitt (a few months) before him in “World War Z” -*dramatic voiceover* it is up to one man to save the world. Except Ender isn’t your typical hunky/swaggering/Pepsi guzzling hero – he’s just a kid, albeit, a brilliant one.
Following the hero’s journey template like a connect-the-dots colouring in page, Ender is a young innocent whose tactical genius is identified by the world weary Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis). They offer him the chance to attend Battle School. In space. He is initially resistant but, space. ‘Crossing the threshold’, Ender thrives, meets new antagonists and allies, goes on a ‘vision quest’ in a video game, has some fun practicing in the battle room (the only fun) all while his enemies get closer and closer.
Like the Australian series “Tomorrow When the War Began”, this is a battle that has been left to the children to fight, and you can see why it would capture the imagination of so many younguns in book form. Feeling like the adults don’t understand, seeing things differently, learning and adapting and leaving elders behind, isn’t that the experience of most children? But Ender is dangerous, a survivor, when backed into a corner he will rage like a mother protecting a newborn baby, and there are victims to his attacks, even when he doesn’t mean to hurt them. Throughout Ender is painted as the innocent. He never starts anything bad, it is just his innate ability to defeat people that is at fault, like that annoying person who always wins at Checkers when they’re not even trying. But no one dies playing Checkers (you would hope) and this is where Ender story feels unlike any other hero’s journey. An intentionalist morality is projected throughout – prizing a character’s ideals over their actions – and this leaves an unintentionally awkward feeling as the end credits roll.
In terms of the film itself, it is quite spectacular to behold, and the first half almost leads you to believe you could be watching something truly extraordinary, a cult classic in the vein of “Blade Runner” or “Gattaca”. But the second half unravels this feeling slowly but surely as a hectic pace distances the viewer from forming any real emotional connection. The end battle’s climactic scene simpers instead of sears, barreling on towards a speedy conclusion, leaving little time to digest the enormity of what preceded and greatly condensing the epilogue.
Asa Butterfield deserves a shout out for an incredible performance as Ender – no matter his character’s questionable position you can always feel the anguish and determination he is feeling, and if he stays on this track he will have a bright future as a leading man. Harrison Ford is appropriately gnarly as the gruff mentor but the great Viola Davis is unfortunately wasted with an undercooked character. A strong young female cast of Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin also have too few scenes to really make an impression, and you get the feeling you are able to spend a lot more time with their characters in the book.
For fans of the book it must be a pleasure that the film has been adapted so faithfully (from what I understand) and finally on the screen with a stellar cast and great visuals. For everyone else, it is a somewhat interesting take on the monomyth, but this is in no way the space epic Harrison Ford will be remembered for.