Ender's Game was too busy with its zero-gravity exercises to screen by WW press deadlines.
Critic's Grade: B-
There’s no denying that Orson Scott Card's well-documented political and anti-gay views are cockeyed and bear the distinct odor of batshit. Still, this adaptation of his 1985 sci-fi novel deserves notice: It makes clear how salient and eerily prescient the author was, back when he wasn’t busy equating Obama with Hitler.
Much in the same vein as The Hunger Games—and, of course, The Lord of the Flies long before it—Ender's Game taps into the brutality and ruthlessness of which children are capable. In the speculative future first envisioned by Card in a 1977 short story, Earth is at war with the Formics, an alien insectoid race (no longer nicknamed “Buggers,” thanks to writer-director Gavin Hood's good sense).
With another invasion seemingly imminent, children have become the military's best shot at victory. After all, kids possess a knack for comprehending complex data and adopting new technology, so of course they're ideally suited for a training regimen of complex computer games and zero-gravity exercises. The fact that these trials (realized through some impressively understated CGI) leave the kids increasingly disassociated from their actions and desensitized to violence doesn't seem to be costing their commanding officers (Harrison Ford and Viola Davis) any sleep.
Ford's Colonel Graff uncovers a potentially sociopathic Skywalker to wage an all-too-familiar “war to prevent all future wars” in loner Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), who's first seen launching a preemptive strike against a school bully. Continuing to display a remarkable aptitude for portraying isolated characters, the otherworldly Butterfield is just as compelling here as he was in Hugo. And while convincingly demonstrating Ender's unnerving cunning and callousness, the disarming young actor likewise invests us in the boy's struggles to preserve his own humanity.
With its obvious parallels to Starship Troopers, Ford's grumpy old military man routine and an appearance by Ben Kingsley as a Yoda-like mentor adorned in Maori tattoos, Ender's Game could easily descend into ridiculousness with the slightest misstep. However, Hood keeps a firm handle on the somber tone and ensures that we're never once at ease with the sadistic environment. But while there's no shortage of tension, there is a lack of dramatic escalation. Structured around a succession of increasingly elaborate training sequences, Ender's Game doesn't naturally build to its epic climax so much as it smash-cuts to it.
Arguably, this might actually heighten the sense that Ender’s Game is an adolescent power fantasy that suddenly spirals horrifically out of control. To its credit, the film never flinches as it poses the harrowing question: What if an outsider finally finds his calling only to discover that it's genocide? This futuristic adventure remains resolutely grounded thanks to the moral morass that ensnares its characters. It's that rarest of cinematic offerings: a young adult film that refuses to be easily dismissed.