Starring: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld
Genre: Action/ Sci-Fi
After the entire planet is nearly destroyed in a war against an alien race known as ‘Formics’ the military commanders of earth continue to plan to destroy this alien race once and for all before they attack again. In doing so they constantly attempt to recruit the very best potential military leaders at a young age, and Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin (Butterfield) is one of those hopefuls. His unique gifts make him stand out, and after close observation from Colonel Graff (Ford) he is sent to military school. Once there the introverted Ender is put through extremely vigorous tests of both his skills and personality by Graff, fellow hopeful students and the hero of the last war Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). As Ender continues to prove himself it is revealed he may be the one whose mankind’s fate relies on, but his increasing questioning of the morality behind what he does may provide him with an even greater challenge.
So here we have yet another series of books that the film industry execs are desperate to turn into the next money spinning super-franchise. Well after lukewarm box office takings the other three books may not get made, and as well as the huge surplus of wannabe Twilight/Hunger Games that keep turning up at the local multiplex on a weekly basis, from watching Ender’s Game it does seem clear why. As entertaining as Ender’s Game is to watch, it is a film that struggles to find a satisfactory compromise between crowd pleasing Sci-Fi action and deeper moral questioning and subtext.
What is the main saving grace of Ender’s Game for me is that we do get a great protagonist, and though his arc may contain plenty of well warn clichés, (bullying older brother, social outcast, parental pressure, great potential etc.) Asa Butterfield gives yet another superb performance. In his performance Butterfield managers to capture with subtle perfection the increasingly conflicting emotions that he experiences and moral questions that he asks of himself and those around him. It is this that gives vital substance to the tried and tested story of a ‘chosen one’ in yet another battle of earth against an alien race. Yes there are plenty of clichéd moments along the way when pretty much every line of dialogue can be predicted, but despite that Ender is a protagonist of genuine depth and one we root for and care about.
Hailee Steinfeld and the other young actors who play the group of misfits that Ender is chosen to lead all give good performances adding further emotional involvement to the narrative. However it is the senior cast that really give nothing; Harrison Ford is a walking cliché and is just happy to grumble a bit and pick up his substantial pay cheque, while Ben Kingsley sports a face tattoo and a dodgy South African accent in a character that should be interesting but just is not. Viola Davis and Abigail Breslin as a psychologist and Ender’s sister respectively are good in roles that add emotional substance but are both severely underused.
Director Gavin Hood has also certainly used the entire estimated $110million budget to make Ender’s Game look expensive. The aerial battles against the Formics certainly look expensive and zero gravity battles that form part of Ender’s training are genuinely thrilling to watch. However as the plot goes along to its (sort of) inevitable conclusion there is a genuine lack of drama considering just how big a deal it all is. The final third gets increasingly bogged down in politics and moral questioning which does pose some genuinely interesting questions, but just feels out of place and compromised in an expensive blockbuster. With a better script or perhaps a lower budget (and therefore less pressure to appeal to a mass audience and include expensive set pieces) Ender’s Game could have been a more intelligent low key Sci-Fi film However though there is some poignancy in the narrative developments, in the end it tails off into frustrating anti climax.
Ender’s Game seems to be a film that perhaps suffers from having too much money spent on it and therefore compromising the moral politics for spectacle and really not combining them with much success and failing to iron out so many genre clichés. However thanks mainly to a great leading performance and some slick visuals it is a perfectly enjoyable protagonist driven Sci-Fi romp, but certainly a case of wasted potential.