There’s no denying that Orson Scott Card's political and anti-gay views are worse than cockeyed. Still, Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Card’s 1985 sci-fi novel deserves notice: It makes clear how salient and eerily prescient the author used to be, back before he was 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 this speculative future, Earth is at war with the Formics, an alien insectoid race, and children have become the military's best shot at victory. The fact that the complex computer games and zero-gravity exercises (realized through some impressively understated CGI) leave the kids increasingly desensitized doesn't seem to cost 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). Continuing to display a remarkable aptitude for portraying isolated characters, the otherworldly Butterfield is just as compelling here as he was in Hugo
. Hood keeps a firm handle on the film’s somber tone, ensuring 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, and Ender's Game
doesn't naturally build to its epic climax so much as it smash-cuts to it. To its credit, though, 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? It's that rarest of cinematic offerings: a young adult film that refuses to be easily dismissed.