Writer and director Gavin Hood and actors Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, and Harrison Ford (to name a few), present a good film with a powerful message at its core. “Ender’s Game”, based upon the book of the same name by Orson Scott Card, tells the futuristic story of the military searching for a child who can lead the army through a victorious war against an alien species called the Formics. Ender (Butterfield) is the most intelligent child they’ve encountered so they train him to command a group of soldiers and save Earth from another invasion by the Formics.
“I won’t play this game anymore.”
Hood wrote a strong screenplay; it was much more complex than I expected it to be. At first, it seems to be a commentary on violent video games making children brutal, but it’s established early on to be much more than that. Ender Wiggin is the central character. He’s brutal at times due to his schooling, but he is also kind. He regrets whenever he does something violent, even if he was only protecting himself against bullies. Ender craves friendship while he is in battle school and he manages to bond with a group of people despite Colonel Graff (Ford) striving to keep him alienated and, thus, cold. Also, he is different than his classmates in that he questions authority when he believes them to be wrong or hypocritical. He stands up to bullies verbally, if he can, using his wit and intelligence. These witty remarks to bullies and authority figures add humor to the story. The minor characters serve their purpose and support Ender’s character arc while also having their own complexities. Of course, some characters are also comic relief which is great given the generally tense and dark tone of the movie.
While the screenplay is otherwise very well done, there are some plot holes. For instance, there are two twists at the end of the film. One, however, is given a brief and weak explanation that isn’t satisfying. It seems abrupt and glossed over. As well, there’s a romantic subplot introduced between Ender and Petra (Steinfeld) – the only female battle school student we meet – but it’s abandoned almost as soon as it’s introduced which makes it really unnecessary. Also, it seems like some details about the futuristic society and the military are only briefly shown to us. I get the feeling that the world of the film is a lot more complex than what we are shown.
“War is different. It isn’t a game.”
Of course, this film comes with a strong cast of many well-known actors. While it’s nice to see these familiar actors, I think the real gem of this film is Asa Butterfield, who previously starred in “Hugo”. He handles Ender with a light touch and the subtlety he uses really allows his character to carry the film. Whenever Ender is upset, his acting is so believable; he lets Ender’s vulnerability show sometimes in subtle ways which is really effective. Butterfield, who is British, also does a really good American accent. In the voice-over, Butterfield delivers his narrative lines well, for the most part (in a few cases he sounds a little awkward). Mostly, though, he seems to understand his character and plays him as a complex person who’s resisting society’s ideals and goals.
Actors such as Viola Davis and Nonso Anozie seem to be a bit lost. Normally Davis (“The Help”), who plays Gwen Anderson, is a strong actress, but in this film her emotions almost fall flat in some scenes. Anozie (“Game of Thrones”), who plays Sergeant Dap, likes to yell most of his lines for no apparent reason. I would have liked to see him handle some of his lines a bit differently. As the movie progresses, Anozie’s acting improves but it’s not his best performance.
The Verdict on “Ender’s Game”
“Ender’s Game” is, simply put, a really good film. The intricacies of the screenplay aided by the talented cast – particularly Asa Butterfield – make for a thought-provoking film about war and brutality causing the loss of innocence not just for children, but for everyone. Even though there are some acting and screenplay issues, it expresses an important message and is enjoyable to watch. While the trailer shows this film to be another sci-fi movie about an alien invasion, it’s a lot more interesting and complex than that.