Ender’s Game (2013) – Directed by Gavin Hood – Starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, and Ben Kingsley.
ENDER’S GAME is a rather dreadful little movie.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s actually a rather dreadful big movie, bereft of heart and soul and intelligence. Pacing is a huge problem; the story unfolds like a rock skipping over water, jumping ahead in leaps instead of diving in and letting the story enfold around you.
There is a story here, a point to be made about the pressures of youths growing up too fast, about how technology puts a dangerous layer between people and their actions, robbing them of the burden of consequence, but the story is too interested in rushing past any semblance of story or characterization for pretty pictures and cheaply made moments.
The story ENDER’S GAME wants to tell carries no emotional weight because in the first half of the movie, where we should be developing our emotional connection with these characters, the film keeps rushing past those opportunities like the aforementioned rock on the pond. Ender is the Chosen One who is so instantly amazing at all of the obstacles thrown before him that there’s no tension. GAME tries to create tension through a couple of bullies, but they’re cartoons in movie that’s supposed to have a deepness to it. Almost nobody likes Ender because he’s the star pupil, so he puts one bully in the hospital and the second into intensive care.
I don’t like Ender (Asa Butterfield), either. I do not dislike him because he’s way better at video games than me, but because, as a character, he’s unlikable. Also, the whole setting is unlikable. Yeah, there’s a big war going on, but everything is super clean and tense simply for the sake of being tense. Ender is constantly on the verge of a breakdown, as are his parents. He’s also so good at everything so quickly that it’s like watching a pianist prodigy learning how to play Elton John songs instead of Beethoven. He goes to military academy and he’s a yellow, then someone yells at him and Harrison Ford sneers at him and he’s a green, except the greens hate him because of they do, so he gets to go be a red and have his own team, made up of all the other misfits at the academy.
I didn’t find watching ENDER’S GAME to be painful as much as I found it to be an empty experience. It’s the kind of adaptation that feels like a greatest hits compilation instead of a fully realized story.
It is pretty, though. The big space battles look really good and once Ender stops being harassed by Harrison Ford and starts being harassed by Ben Kingsley, the film picks up. I like watching the computer battles because they’re pretty but it’s still just a disconnected kid yelling at other disconnected kids, so while my eyeballs are happy, my brain is banging itself against the inside of my skull.
It’s only after Ender “wins” the simulation and discovers he was fighting an actual war, commanding actual troops, and killing actual Formics that ENDER’S GAME gets someplace interesting. Everyone is happy Ender won until Ender realizes the consequence of his victory. He’s just committed genocide and he’s crushed by this, regretting taking the military option instead of looking for a diplomatic solution. Crushed, he goes into an underground ruin and find the queen of the Formics and agrees to help her find a new world for her race to inhabit.
I wish the film had started with Ender’s final battle and then moved forward because watching the prodigy live with the consequences of his actions is far more interesting that watching the Chosen One be all Chosen One.
ENDER’S GAME was a tremendous disappointment. It’s bright and shiny and there are some good scenes between Ford and Butterfield, but it’s mostly just a series of shiny, predictable scenes rolling past, one after another after another. When Ender complains that Colonel Graff is stopping him from communicating with his sister, I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough or fast enough. He’s the Chosen One but if you don’t let him have email access to his sister, he’s going home?
It’s so stupid.
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