Review Science fiction
ENDER'S GAME (PG)
Duration: 114 minutes
The story: Andrew "Ender" Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one of an elite cadre of children selected for a space academy where they train to fight alien invaders called the Formics. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) of the International Fleet believes that Ender is a uniquely gifted tactician. Ender doubts his own abilities, especially when his relations with fellow cadets, among them Petra Arkanian (Hailee Steinfeld), prove problematic. Based on the best-selling science-fiction novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card, published in 1985.
Although this collection of semi-cooked ideas fails to cohere into a satisfying whole, points have to be awarded for ambition. At its worst, this work feels needlessly sombre and self-important; it alludes to several big ideas without dealing with any of them adequately.
The story is at its best when it drops its Sun Tzu attitude and relaxes into a young-adult adventure, a Harry Potter in space, complete with a version of zero-gravity Quidditch.
South African director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2009), also the film's screenwriter, adapted the book into a story that appears to embrace the novel's sprawl of themes. These run the gamut: Evil must be done in the name of the greater good, freedom is the first casualty of war and what feels like a dozen others.
The toughest crumb of fortune-cookie wisdom to chew on is that one must know one's enemy to beat him, but knowing the enemy also leads to love for him. This rather shaky and convenient bit of reasoning explains and foreshadows the action in the third act.
Hood takes on too many of these ideas, and it does not help that his characters feel as if they were manufactured in a factory of foils - each person in the story comes with his or her opposite, conveniently providing tension or explication, and all of them hitting their marks hard.
Colonel Graff (Ford) is the dehumanising face of the military, tempered by the light touch of Major Anderson (Viola Davis); Ender's own weaknesses and strengths find their contrasts in his brother Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) and sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin).
Not having read the book, it is hard for me to tell if the film version has discarded too much light and shade. But the result here is that everyone, even many of the child characters, feel more like slogan machines than human.
Ford, Davis and Ben Kingsley (as the half-Maori war hero Mazer Rackham) deliver dialogue with a heavy, staring intensity, as if every line in their script had been underlined. A recurring scene is one in which they impart wisdom to Ender after he suffers a crisis of confidence. It all contributes to the film's chilly tone, as well as its repetitiveness.
Asa Butterfield is well cast as Ender. There is a vulnerability to him that offsets the pedantry in the storytelling.
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