I wasn’t familiar with the 1985 best-seller by Orson Scott Card, but a guy sitting next to us at the screening wanted to tell me all about it. I was more interested in what my racquetball partner Leo was explaining to me about gravity and space stations in sci-fi films.
The movie had a Lord of the Flies meets Top Gun vibe; or maybe a better comparison, since young lead Asa Butterfield had a Daniel Radcliffe look: Harry Potter meets Full Metal Jacket.
Butterfield is rather impressive in this, as he was in Hugo. His Hugo co-star Ben Kingsley shows up with a face tattoo that would make Mike Tyson envious. He’s doing an interesting New Zealand type accent, and again proves he’s one of the best actors ever.
Harrison Ford, one of the worst actors in the most successful films, actually shows a tiny bit of range as he has to be both caring and manipulative with the young kids he trains.
The story is a science-fiction tale about a military academy in the future that trains cadets to go into war. They feel that with their video game training, they perceive and process data differently than an adult would.
This is why I loved the introduction of the Viola Davis (Doubt) character coming in. She is a child psychiatrist that sees the flaw in treating kids in the harsh manner the academy does. Her character always seemed believable in the actions she takes to rectify things. Her scenes with Ford were well-done and without all the screaming you’d see in a typical Hollywood blockbuster of this sort. They may have disagreements, but they’re always rather civil.
This movie is good for the family, even if it does have a PG-13 rating. The bullying aspects of it are especially relevant today. Oh, and actor Moises Arias (Hannah Montana) plays perhaps the best teenage bully I’ve seen on film. It’s strange to think that this is the same guy that played a nerdy character in the Kings of Summer earlier this year.
All these children are being groomed to become fighters that will take on an alien race that killed millions of people on Earth decades earlier. The one moral dilemma that doesn’t really work, is the ethics of when to go to war. They want you to leave the theatre feeling conflicted about that, but they specifically showed these aliens attacking and killing humans earlier in the movie. How would we feel any other way about attacking them first? It’s a lot different from Avatar, where humans are attacking aliens for a valuable mineral used for energy and not for self defense.
It was interesting watching the kids play a laser tag game in a weightless arena in preparation for battle. That’s not just because of the zero gravity, but the way they learn to cooperate during the game.
When Butterfield plays a video game he controls with his mind, I wondered if younger audience members would even appreciate it (have you seen the graphics in contemporary video games?).
I was glad they didn’t make this movie in 3-D. The Imax I saw it in was terrific; especially the sounds, which you sometimes feel in the pit of your stomach.
Since Ender’s the new kid in class, Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) takes him under her wing. This doesn’t make the bully very happy, but it seems like nothing does.
Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) has a nice role as the caring sister who was kicked out of the program for being to compassionate.
As much as I thought the goofy line about “loving your enemy” didn’t work, I liked Ender’s logic (and origin of his nickname). He doesn’t want to just win a battle in a video game or with a bully – he wants to end all the future fights that might have arisen had he merely won and not completely destroyed the person. That logic appeals to Harrison Ford. In fact, he even manages to smile (a hard feat for Ford as an actor).
The movie could be a bit grim at times, but for this two-hour picture it was paced briskly and you’re never bored.
The graphics were astounding, and it’s always fun when Han Solo returns to space.
This gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.