“The world needs a Julius Caesar, a Napoleon,” says General Graff (Harrison Ford). “Julius Caesar was assassinated, Napoleon was defeated,” says Andrew Wiggin, aka Ender (Asa Butterfield). “But not before they conquered the known world,” Graff says. Ender, with other of the world’s smartest children, studies at off-world Battle School where Graff is in charge. One of the children will become Commander of the World Fleet, gathering to defend Earth and defeat the Formics – insect-like aliens who invaded, and nearly conquered, our planet 50 years previously – and who, Graff believes, will return, unless, in a pre-emptive strike, humans destroy them first.
Can Ender complete his training, or will doubts and feelings undercut his success? Does Ender “think” into the Formics’ brain? Are the film’s moral issues more interesting than its plot? See “Ender’s Game” for answers.
Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford are fine as central characters Ender and General Graff – antagonists in a quasi-father/son relationship. “Don’t threaten me, boy,” says Graff, “I’m not the enemy.” “I’m not so sure,” says Ender. Viola Davis has not much to do as Major Gwen Anderson. She works beside but does not agree with gruff General Graff’s tough-guy methods. “I want to know what Ender is feeling,” she says. “When the war is over,” Graff replies, “we can debate the morality of using children.” It’s head versus heart, according to Graff and Davis. Which will Ender choose? Can he have it both ways?
Others in the cast include Ben Kingsley as First Formic War hero, Mazer Rackham, who mentors Ender. Hailee Steinfeld is Petra Arkanian, Ender’s soul mate – perhaps. Abigail Breslin plays Valentine, Ender’s older sister who, like Major Anderson, is on the heart side of the equation. Moises Arias is Bonzo Madrid, whom Ender challenges for Battle School leadership. Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha and Khylin Rhambo are schoolmates Bean, Alai and Dink.
“Ender’s Game” is a sci-fi coming-of-age story, in which Ender, removed from his family – like Harry Potter – excels in studies but has difficulty following rules and dealing with authority. Gavin Hood directed and, with Orson Scott Card, wrote the script based on Card’s novel. Production values and special effects are smart, but the film’s emphasis is on Ender’s inner conflicts between hard-nosed leadership (“Just remember what I do to people who try to hurt me”) and empathy with enemies (“I will bear the shame of this genocide forever”).
Rated PG-13 for violence, sci-fi action and themes, “Ender” runs 114 minutes. Not for little kids but teens and adults will enjoy its visual pleasures and find issues the film raises interesting to debate on the way home.
Where is a leader bred,
In the heart or in the head?
“Ender’s Game,” sci-fi tale –
If you win, do you fail?