by Michael Walters
The Cantankerous Critic
“Ender’s Game” is a would-be epic, with a crippling dearth of originality. It’s telling that the film creates whole new worlds, and a race of new alien invaders, but fails to come up with a single memorable image. The special effects wind up looking like a mass of digital regurgitated space junk from other much better sci-fi films.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a seed of a good story here. Asa Butterfield plays Ender Wiggin, a young space recruit who dreams of becoming a commander, and leading Earth’s forces against a race of ant-like alien invaders who tried to colonize our planet decades before.
Harrison Ford – finding another fitting role for his growling cranky old man tics – is the space commander, Colonel Graff, who sees young Ender as the savior for our civilization. He’s a living love letter to the idea of preemptive strikes, and he’s building up an army to wipe out the aliens before they wipe out us.
While Graff only sees Ender as a war machine, army psychologist played by Viola Davis wants to find out what makes him tick, so he doesn’t burn out.
Ender has a few of his own problems, embodied by his siblings. His sister is too compassionate for war, and his brother is too much of a bully to know when to stop. Ender is a brilliant tactician, but doesn’t find it easy to balance the two sides of his personality.
“Ender’s Game” is as palatable as it is thanks to some fine performances.
Butterfield is well cast as the scrawny looking Ender, who must outwit opponents rather than overpower them. Hailee Steinfeld makes the most of an underwritten role as Ender’s tough as nails but compassionate fellow recruit. Ben Kingsley brings an air of prestige, despite playing a man with a tattoo on his face. And Viola Davis is dependable as always.
Unfortunately, writer and director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) seems to have learned nothing from his last disastrous foray into the world of superheroes. He shuttles his actors from one overblown set piece to another, while failing to land any emotional points in their few scenes of character development.
If actors like Butterfield and Steinfeld make any connections at all with each other and the audience, it seems in spite of the dialogue and their director, not because of them.
I saw this film in IMAX, but Hood seems to think quality is measured in decibels. Each gigantic sequence is big, but blah. The movie flips the script at the end to get us to think about its protagonist in a new way, and set up a sequel, but Director Gavin Hood doesn’t have enough ideas to fill up one movie, let alone two.