‘Ender’s Game’ ultimately a draw

‘Ender’s Game’ ultimately a draw

By Karsten Burgstahler

Young adult literature seems to be the ticket for studios these days. Strike it big with a first adaptation and you are set for years to come. See: “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.”

But with Lionsgate putting the finishing touches on another trip to the “Hunger Games” arena, their subsidiary studio Summit is hoping to catch a few weeks of success with their adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” (Rated PG-13; 114 Min.), a sci-fi tale of a teenager recruited to lead an army against an invading colony of giant ant-like creatures called Formics. Basically, this is Terminix: The Movie.

Despite the fact that it sounds like a set-up for a bad exterminator commercial, the cast and crew push onward like they are dealing with the most serious plot ever written. The main character is Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), a scrawny teenager whose brains make up for his lack of brawn. He can figure his way out of pretty much any situation and use his cool to make the best decision.


This is a future in which children are sent to battle school, then commander school in hopes of finding the future leader of a massive military force. Only once is it offered up why children must be used — as gruff Colonel Graff, Harrison Ford (who else?) notes that children can process situations faster than adults. This seems like rather weak reasoning, but it is used to justify  children mercilessly beating each other in planned games where the rules are only quickly explained to the audience. All of the adults around Ender — which, beyond Ford, include Viola Davis as Major Anderson and Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham — are manipulating him into doing what they believe is in Earth’s best interest.

But is it?

The problem with “Ender’s Game” is that no one really brings up questions of morality until the final third of the movie, or really even until the climax. There is nothing interesting until then, just a tale of a child overcoming bullies in space. And even though the audience is supposed to root for Ender as an underdog in a group of stronger kids, he never really seems to be at a disadvantage. It is clear from the start that he is smarter than everyone else. Butterfield does not interject a wide range of emotions into Ender; as a soldier, he is pretty stoic. When he is given the chance to finally let loose, he is just not convincing.

The stakes do not seem all that high here either. In some movies, keeping the monster hidden builds tension. “Independence Day” did not reveal the aliens until two-thirds of the way through, but their actions and their ships were enough to make the audience cheer for the good

guys. Yes, the bad guys here threaten Earth. But there is nothing that scary about the Formics (unless you are terrified of ants), and most of the violence is contained to simulation. Several times the audience is literally watching a video game.

One thing “Ender’s Game” does have on its side is visual effects. Even though most of the action scenes do not serve a purpose beyond proving how smart Ender is, the Battle Room wheremostofthegamestakeplaceis well formed. Several scenes where the camera follows jets in the midst of war are also grabbing. It is clear a majority of thought went in to making sure the sets and action scenes looked good, because the dialogue certainly seems written by committee.

Like the characters it portrays, “Ender’s Game” is cold and calculating, rather than exciting and challenging, at least for the first two-thirds. If the whole movie pushed the boundaries like the writers finally get around to doing toward the end, this could have been a good thought-provoking, popcorn-munching action flick. But all it is really good for is the popcorn-munching, and that is why “Ender’sGame”isjustastalemate.


Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected] or 536-3311 ext. 261