Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ender's Game

Directed by Gavin Hood.
2013. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Asa Butterfield
Harrison Ford
Viola Davis
Abigail Breslin
Moises Arias
Ben Kingsley
Hailee Steinfeld
Aramis Knight

Fifty years ago there was an alien invasion that wiped out much of humanity. Eventually, us earthlings were able to defeat the extra terrestrial invaders when a brave soul named Mazer Rackham (Kingsley) rammed his ship into the bad guys' mother ship and all of their smaller ships started falling out of the sky. Apparently, he saw Independence Day. Anyhoo, his sacrifice has made him a legend and we've been preparing for another attack ever since. Of course, all of our fighting vessels have lots of buttons and big screen displays and kids are allegedly more adept at using those things than adults, so it's decided that we only train child prodigies to be our future fighters. The program is run by Colonel Graff (Ford). He goes all Morpheus and thinks he has found "the one" in the form of Ender Wiggin (Butterfield). Trying to get him ready for the next invasion ensues.

Right away, the movie puts me in position to actually contemplate its premise. I like it, but at the same time it sounds like complete rubbish. To begin with, people who are really adept at video games are simply people who love video games, regardless of age. Kids tend to play them a lot more often due to having more time, less responsibility, yada yada, which is why they're generally better. Where I'm going is I don't think it would be wise at all to utilize children for such a program because of the real life ramifications of what you're asking them to accomplish. Do you really want to place your fate in the hands of button happy children? Since that's what the movie is going with, that's what I'm going with. The sooner you let go of the questions, the sooner you can get into the movie.

To help us get into it, it presents us with the dire reality that the powers that be aren't just preparing for a possible attack, they're fairly certain one is coming. Next, they run our hero through a series of training exercises. These are mostly interesting, particularly the floating war games thingy. On top of this our hero clashes with whoever his leader is every step of the way, so there's lots of arguing about everything. Lots of this arguing is done by Col. Graff and his right hand man woman Major Anderson (Davis). Her only function throughout the film is to say the exact opposite of whatever Graff says. Their back and forths are amusing, even if Ford seems to be phoning it in. Davis is her usual intense self. I swear that woman could make twiddling your thumbs sound like an urgent matter that must be addressed. Our star, Asa Butterfield, is rather meh, but helped greatly by appearing normal next to the scenery chewing Moises Arias (of Hannah Montana fame) as one of those leaders he clashes with. Ben Kingsley shows up later to chew whatever scenery was left over. Butterfield gets a nice emotional centering from Abigail Breslin as the girl who takes a shine to him and helps him out from time to time. This reminds me, as always, there is a budding romance shoe-horned in, though it never really goes anywhere.

Ahhh...never going anywhere. That's the movie's problem. I understand that the whole thing is meant to set up a sequel. However, that doesn't mean that it should completely anti-climactic. I hope I'm not spoiling it, but the way the movie plays out it's training, argue, training, argue, training, stupid twist, The End. It quite literally pulls the rug out from beneath your feet. My first reaction to what happened was "What? That's it?" Usually, when that happens I put my brain to work trying to dig a little deeper. Maybe I missed something. Perhaps something profound is lurking just beneath the surface that I didn't initially grasp. No, not really. It just kind of says "We were pulling your leg this whole time," and drops the mic like it just finished rocking the house. My house wasn't rocked.


  1. Well, this review rocked my house. So there's that.

    I have zero interest in ever seeing this movie, and coming from me, that should speak volumes. Ford seems like he's been phoning it in since everything after What Lies Beneath (that's kneejerk...but I'm not investigating), and this Butterfield kid looked wooden in the previews. But...but, I do like the premise of handing the fate of the world to kids who play video games all day. Totally makes sense.

    1. Yup, the Butterfield kid is definitely wooden. He was arguably the least interesting person in the movie which is kind of a problem. Thanks.

  2. I saw this with my family and when it ended I just pulled this face and the others were saying how amazing it was, how they couldn't wait for the sequel, etc. I on the other hand just didn't get into it at all, and like you said, it just went nowhere. Great review!
    - Allie

    1. I can't say I'm looking forward to the sequel. My family likes lots of movies I don't, but we were all in agreement on this one.

  3. I watched this movie a few months ago and I have read the book though my memory of it is a bit hazy.

    One of the my criticism of the movie is that the dialogue wasn't really good. I think you mentioned a lot of arguing yet they didn't really have the weight it should have considering some of the things that were happening. Second is that the movie doesn't give much indication that a lot of time has passed especially since the they used the same kid actors throughout. Ender was like six when he entered the school and about sixteen at the end of the movie. That's a long time in a kid's life to be training for war. And Ender was one of the youngest leaders in the school.

    The video games aspects of war training, I guess it was one of the ways to train, and analyse their students performance, using virtual war, it wasn't because children/students were chosen because they were good at video games. The kids development were followed prior to joining the school to see if they had the right head (intellectually and psychologically) to be in such a school/career. As for using children...I guess even today children are sent to military school for a military career when they are adults...I don't know if the movie made it clear, not all children were utilize for the program Ender was in, they only used geniuses. All of Ender's peers in that school were geniuses. They were not trained to be foot solders, they were trained as strategists. It was also Major Anderson's role in the movie to consider the ramifications of what these kids were doing, which was why Anderson was arguing with Graff so much especially with Graff pushing Ender much more than the others.

    I agree the end was anticlimactic. It's suppose to be a great reveal after years of training for Ender and the movie really didn't do it justice I think. Oh and I wished they put in more scenes of Peter (Ender's brother). If Valentine was the angel on Ender's shoulder, Peter was the devil. A lot of what Ender does was a result of a fear of being like Peter.

    1. The movie did make it clear they only used geniuses. I also totally get everything else you're saying. The problem was not all the kids really seemed like geniuses. They felt like foot soldiers all just waiting to see what Ender does, even before he had any authority whatsoever. I get they had to make the kid look good, but it made them look bad which didn't quite work.

      You're also right about the video game aspect of things. It was one way to train, and they were chosen for all the reasons you give. However, it's presented like 'kids are good at video games, so we took the best kids.'

      As for Maj. Anderson and Col. Graff. After we finally find out what's going on, we have to assume that they knew all along, yet they kept having the same pointless conversation about 'what if' over and over. It makes no sense. And yeah, Peter needed to be more involved in some way.

      Great comment.

  4. I am pretty sad that this movie was so so because I am curious to see what the film is like compared to book, which I have read a year ago. Either way, I'm going to see it so I can compare the difference between the film and the book.

    1. I wish I could help you, but I didn't read the book. I'm curious about you're perspective on the movie so even though it wasn't my cup of tea I hope you get to see it soon.

  5. Good review Dell. It was a very weird movie that played around with so many adult, grown-up themes, yet, didn't know how to present them in a way that made it simple to understand as to where it was coming from. I don't know. I think I just had a problem with this one.

    1. I'm with you. It put a lot on its own plate but couldn't finish it.