UK Release Date: 25th October 2013
Runtime: 114 minutes
Director: Gavin Hood
Writer: Gavin Hood
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, Moises Arias
Synopsis: After an inter-planetary war, talented children are trained to fight the alien aggressors in order to avert any future conflict.
It’s always nice to be genuinely surprised by a film. Trailers for Ender’s Game promised nothing more than a slightly childish sci-fi romp led by the kid from Hugo and Harrison Ford. Instead, Ender’s Game is an intelligent, thought-provoking, action-packed thrill ride of an autumn blockbuster.
Following an attempted invasion by alien race the Formics, Earth is now training children to fight the aliens if they return. Ender (Asa Butterfield) is one of the most gifted of the children being trained by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis). As he ascends the ranks, he meets Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) and a new group of colleagues who will become part of Earth’s last line of defence.
The PR campaign for Ender’s Game has strived to be this generation’s Star Wars before the real thing gets in the way in 2015. It’s not quite as good as that, but it’s also a completely different beast. In fact, Ender’s Game is full to the brim with lofty ideas about the futility of war, the politics of aggression and even the line between real violence and video games.
There’s a lot of meat here, wrapped up in an entertaining, escapist blockbuster with humour, believable characters and a plot with real surprises around every bend.
At the centre of the film is a solid performance from Asa Butterfield. He was great in Hugo, and he really stands out here amidst a young supporting cast who struggle to get beyond the performance level of a school nativity play. The usually reliable Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin (fresh from her trembling turn in The Call) are also stilted and unmoving for the majority of the film.
The true strength of this adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s hugely popular 80s novel is its story. Ender’s transformation from child, to cadet, to commander is slick, smooth and completely believable in the context of the story.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine director Gavin Hood proves to be an assured pair of hands behind the camera, marshalling effects-heavy action sequences and gritty hand-to-hand combat with equal skill. He manages to pull together all of the necessary elements to make Ender’s Game work in terms both of spectacle and of humanity, which is no mean feat given the density of the material.
It’s difficult to discuss the later events of the narrative without spoiling the genuine surprise of the climax, but needless to say, the way in which Ender is used throws up a lot of questions. Ender’s Game is willing to ask these questions, but prefers to let the audience answer them, which is very much as it should be.
Pop or Poop?
In an era of Hollywood where risk-taking is a forgotten art, a 12A film as dark as Ender’s Game is very rare indeed. This might be a film about kids, but it certainly isn’t made for them.
It deftly juggles meaty, enormous issues, whilst also keeping a real hold on its characters and its narrative arc in a way that few blockbusters manage.
If every sci-fi blockbuster aimed at a young teenage audience worked this well, we’d have a Star Wars for every generation.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.