“Ender’s Game” had a lot to live up to heading into theaters. The film faced the daunting task of pleasing fans of the classic science fiction novel it was based upon. It also risked being compared to other big-screen adaptations of young adult books.
For every success like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games,” there are bombs such as “Beautiful Creatures” and “The Mortal Instruments.”
But “Ender’s Game” is nothing like those movies. Instead of relying on soapy love triangles, the film stays faithful to its source material and raises important questions about the ethics of war. Sure, there’s plenty of CGI action featuring space battles, but it’s all to ask just how far one side should go to win a war and whether victory is really worth it if it means having to surrender morality. And, brilliantly, it uses the innocence of children as a vehicle to examine these issues.
“Ender’s Game” takes place in a futuristic world at war with an alien race called the Formics. Realizing that kids grow up playing video games and thus have better-honed technological and decision-making skills than adults, the military recruits them as soldiers to fight the aliens. One young cadet in particular, Ender Wiggin, has demonstrated superior expertise in training, and Col. Hiram Graff hand picks him as humanity’s savior.
Only Ender isn’t so sure he wants to be that. The fantastic Asa Butterfield blends sensitivity with jadedness in capturing his character’s transition from a boy just hoping to live up to the massive expectations placed on him to a young man questioning the methods being used to test him and the very necessity of the war. Ender knows he has the killer instinct that could lead the humans to victory, but he doesn’t want to sacrifice his compassionate nature to do so.
He also resents Graff’s constant manipulation and wonders whether the Formics are truly the enemies.
On the other hand, Harrison Ford channels his anti-Han Solo to play the gruff Graff. Ford effectively conveys the colonel’s ruthlessness, yet also gets across that even he, at times, doubts his tactics, a testament to the icon’s acting ability.
Butterfield and Ford played excellently off one another, and their interactions regarding whether the end truly justifies the means form the heart of the movie.
Director Gavin Hood should be commended – it’s not every day that someone can direct an adaptation on par with its beloved source. However, “Ender’s Game” the film shouldn’t be defined as another entry in the YA book-to-screen genre. Rather, it’s an extraordinary, thought-provoking movie all on its own.
Sean Quinn can be reached at email@example.com.