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November 18, 2013

Ender’s Game

by Franz Patrick


Ender’s Game (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Fifty years since a bug-like alien race called Formics failed to colonize Earth, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) is desperate to find a child who has the potential to lead against a second wave of invasion—one that he is convinced will happen soon. His search seems to be over when he comes across Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a cadet who fought back against a school bully. Eventually, Ender is informed by Col. Graff about his admission in Battle School, an elite training facility in outer space where gifted teenagers learn advanced military tactics.

There is a surplus of movies that run over two hours for absolutely no reason other than to create a semblance of importance, so when a picture that actually deserves to have its story told over a span of two-and-a-half hours, maybe even three, but gets a final cut of just under two, a part of me cannot help but get irritated. This is because “Ender’s Game,” based on Orson Scott Card’s novel and adapted to the screen by Gavin Hood, is high level entertainment as well as an intelligent commentary about the qualities one must possess in order to be considered an effective leader.

The hurried pacing dilutes what could have been a compelling psychological portrait of a character who is continually told, in subtle and overt ways, that he is gifted and special. While still interesting, we are only given snippets of the doubts that cross his mind when these are the elements that should have been expounded upon so that the material can stand above increasingly familiar “chosen one” franchises. Instead, the middle section almost relies on a formula between battle simulations and Ender’s troubles with figures of authority.

The action sequences look stunning. The zero gravity scenes where recruits must work as a team in order to take out members of the opposing team, a game similar to laser tag, command a level of excitement that is unexpected because we know that the weapons are designed only to disable via temporary paralysis—with zero level of pain. The various effects and acrobatics had to be done with CGI but as hard as I tried to pinpoint which exact elements are obviously done on the computer, my efforts were to no avail. The fluidity and seamlessness of every action and reaction—without the camera resulting to the increasingly annoying shaking tactic in order to induce thrills—allow the images look very polished, professional, and appropriately futuristic.

I also enjoyed the acting, especially by Butterfield and Ford. Ford has mastered the low, menacing growl and I believed him as a man of authority who thinks that his way of thinking and doing is the only right path and proposed alternative routes leave too much room for risk and therefore failure. Viola Davis, who plays Major Anderson, does a good job as a sounding board against Col. Graff’s domineering personality and ideas. We can detect that her character is also strong but on a different level. However, because of the aforementioned time constraint, it appears as though Major Anderson’s role in Ender’s extensive character arc is a bit unripe.

As with Butterfield, he has a knack for crossing the thin membrane between someone who can easily be pushed around one minute and then the next someone who has gotten control of a situation who may or may not push things a bit too far. He gives Ender a bit of edge by allowing him to be slightly dangerous. In addition, it is important that we believe that the protagonist is a highly intelligent tactician—on and off the simulations. Butterfield is able to embody this quality. He looks lanky, awkward, determined, and smart—and these contradictions work for him. I felt there was a soul in the character I was watching. I wished, however, that Bufferfield avoided tears in order convey sadness or heartbreak. Sometimes holding it all in thereby allowing only the audience to go through the catharsis is a more effective avenue.

I demand a sequel—one that is longer but equally ambitious. For instance, I wish to know more about Ender’s crew (Hailee Steinfeld, Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha, Khylin Rhambo)—the friends he made while in Battle School—and the specific qualities they put on the table to make a great team. Though director Gavin Hood’s “Ender’s Game” has weaknesses that are recognizable, they can just as easily be overlooked when it is able to deliver on the material’s inherent potential and you find yourself invested in what is going on, what is going to happen, and what certain decisions might entail given it has a chance to continue.

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