Suprising, impressive adaptation
The filmmakers responsible for the long anticipated adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel “Ender’s Game” do just about everything right, producing an exciting and thought-provoking film that should thrill fans of the book as well as newbies to the story.
It is not easy to create a sci-fi film that is completely original, and clearly there are DNA traces of Star Wars and many other similar films in “Ender’s Game.” But credit writer-director Gavin Hood (“X-Men: Wolverine”) for fashioning a credible future world that isn’t obviously derivative and for putting together a superb cast. Several young actors help to pull off the film’s major plot: In the near future a hostile alien race may return to attack the earth (as it did once before) and it’s up to a band of youngsters to lead the charge to defeat them.
Why youngsters? The prescient Card, even back in 1985, long before video games were a billion dollar business (a video game today makes more money in a weekend than a movie makes in its lifetime), imagined that kids would develop technology-centric skills far beyond their predecessors and be more adept at fighting the wars of the future. The moral implications of this merit further discussion, but that’s another matter.
Young Asa Butterfield (“Hugo”) is terrific as the physically unimposing but emotionally complex Andrew Ender, whose superior tactical skills are only equaled by his bravado. He even has the wherewithal to challenge his gruff recruiter Colonel Graff, perfectly played by Harrison Ford, clearly channeling an aging Han Solo.
While in training Ender and his fellow cadets (“launchies”) must compete in simulation games, the most interesting being a zero-gravity laser-tag like match where Ender both earns the respect of his fellow trainees (including Petra, “True Grit’s” Hailee Steinfeld) and the ire of the bullying superior Bonzo (Moises Arias).
As part of the surprisingly rich psychological subtext, Ender’s inclination seems torn between the sadistic tendencies of older brother Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) and the caring sensitivity of sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin). Along for the ride are senior advisor Anderson (Viola Davis) and legendary soldier Mazer (Ben Kingsley, using another difficult to place accent and posture that is both compelling and bizarre – see “Iron Man 3”).
But the heart of “Ender’s Game” is a well-paced, beautifully imagined sci-fi actioner that feels fresh, satisfyingly complex, with characters that won’t get stale anytime soon. Since Card wrote a dozen or more similarly themed books, there’s justification of more to come from this franchise. For a change, that’s a good thing.
Rated PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.