Ender’s Game, a Teen Space Adventure (Film Review)

*Master bill type

Teens will have a blast with Ender’s Game, a science fiction adventure that’s well acted and directed.  The much-read novel by Orson Scott Card focuses on the target audience putting youngsters in the roles of saving the Earth. Using amazing special effects that transport the audience into space, the book transfers to the screen exceptionally well. It’s an action thriller from start to finish.  Even though the story does tend to get little implausible, the focus on the fine young actors will have the teenagers demanding a sequel.

Fifty years have passed since the Earth was attacked by the Formic, an insect species of space invaders.  That time the military was able to defeat the insect nation, but only due to the actions of one man, Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley).  But, Earth has been getting signs that there may be another attack, so a crop of young recruits are needed to fill the ranks. The film starts to play out introducing Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield)  following in the footsteps of his hero, Rackham, by trying out for the International Forces.

We find Ender being caught in a misdeed and gets called into the office of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), leader of the school that’s training the recruits.  Graff sees that Ender has potential for being a leader so he bumps him up to another level where he’ll train in space. We follow Ender as he progresses through the ranks, often seen as a threat to anyone who has aspirations of becoming a Commander of the Forces.  When Ender shows greatness in a zero gravity fighting exercise at Battle School, Graff opens the path to Commander for the cunning teenager.

Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) chews out Ender (Asa Butterfield) over a misdeed

Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) chews out Ender (Asa Butterfield) over a misdeed

The movie plays out in the midst of a lot of action with Ender being targeted by Bonzo Madrid, leader of the scorpion team, who has his eyes on being Commander himself.  Having been bullied while a ‘Launchie’, Ender knows what’s up right away.  Director Gavin Hood wastes no time putting Ender in confrontation with the strong willed rival, giving a show of brawn versus brains. Butterfield’s Ender is up to the challenge using his smarts to counter the attacks of Madrid.  Hood’s casting of Moises Arias as Bonzo, a shorter kid but strong in stature, is a very good choice.  He turns in a great performance using some aggressive tactics that throw Ender off balance.

Bonzo (Moises Arias) and Ender mixes it up while Cadet Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) looks on

Bonzo (Moises Arias) and Ender mixes it up while Cadet Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) looks on

I am not impressed with Harrison Ford in the role of Colonel Graff, seeming not to have his heart in the role.  Maybe it’s the script and what Director Hood wanted for the screen, but his constant scowls get tiresome and not that enjoyable to watch during his performance. It always fascinates me that studios go for a big named actor to get people into movie seats, even if they are totally miscast for the part.  He takes too much attention away from Ender’s character and lessens the value of Viola Davis’s Major Gwen Anderson, turning her importance into a footnote.

The special effects and computer graphics are extremely good especially during the attacks by the Formic aliens.  Director Hood pulls the camera back so we can see all the action with the flying alien ships and the Earth space fighters in a battle for supremacy.  The scenes where the cadets have to train in zero gravity are as good as in the film Gravity with actors realistically floating about in a training arena. The space ports, base on the Formic planet and advance command base armed with the most powerful weapon ever invented, are remarkable on the screen.

This definitely is a teen film beyond a doubt, but older folks who enjoyed The Hunger Games and The Twilight Saga, that targets this same audience, should enjoy the adventure and action as well.  Teen stars are a big part of the film with some very nice acting by rising heartthrob Asa Butterfield.  His notable performance as the young Ender, who doesn’t back down and with the determination to succeed, should gather a rather large teen fan base.  On the other side of the coin, the cutie Hailee Steinfeld as cadet Petra Arkanian, puts on a good show as the tough supporter of Ender.  She balances the film giving the boys a chance to see what a girl can do in combat much like Jennifer Lawrence does as Katniss in The Hunger Games.

Ender gets ready for 0 gravity battle

Ender gets ready for 0 gravity battle

Ender’s game is the first of many books by Orson Scott Card and I’m sure we have not seen the last of his creations on the screen.  Filled with adventure and action, his stories take aim at a generation that has come to love fiction about the futuristic worlds in space.  Film sequels to Enders Game could come out of Card’s “Speaker for the Dead”, “Xenocide”, “Children of the Mind” and “Ender in Exile” if there is enough interest at the box-office. With this many books we can see Asa Butterfield grow up on film like Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson did in the Harry Potter series. (I’m just predicting here.)

Ender’s Game has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.  If your children have read the book and are regular science fiction gamers, then this film should not be off limits.  There are scenes of bullying, but in most instances are appropriately handled. The violence is distant except for a fight in a lavatory.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A good teen targeted film for both male and female audiences. (B)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, and Moises Arias
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material    
Running Time: 1 hr 54 min
Opening Date: November 1, 2013
Distributed by: Summit Entertainment

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