Now Playing: ‘Ender’ Is No Game Changer, But It’ll Do

My old man is quite a fan of “hard” science fiction. The sci-fi that I read as a teenager – Heinlein, Asimov, Dick and so on – was due to his influence. I remember him praising ‘Ender’s Game’ from time to time, but I never got around to reading it. While in college, an astonished friend bought me a paperback copy. Surprisingly, I couldn’t put it down. With great characters and a great story, I was hooked – that is, until the climax (or should I call it the “anti-climax”?). When I finished the book, I knew exactly why it hadn’t been made into a film yet: There’s no way that it would work cinematically. This Tuesday, I walked into an ‘Ender’s Game’ press screening as pessimistic as one could be. No one could make this story work, especially not the director of that awful ‘X-Men: Origins‘ movie. Much to my surprise, I walked out more satisfied with this than most of this summer’s blockbusters.

‘Ender’s Game’ is set in the near future after humankind has won an ‘Independence Day’-like war against a technologically advanced alien species. During the alien raid, after millions of humans had died, a fighter pilot pulled a Randy Quaid on their mothership for the win. (The only thing missing is Quaid’s line, “Hello, boys! I’m baaaaack!“) Fifty-something years later, humans are now hunting the alien race across the galaxy to stop them before they return with even an even bigger fleet.

In this future, it’s realized that children can more easily learn wartime tactics than adults, so children are recruited, trained and employed as humanity’s last great hope to defeat the bug-like aliens. Our story follows one of these kids, Ender Wiggin (‘Hugo‘ star Asa Butterfield), as he enters Battle School – an orbiting military space camp that weeds out the weak and trains Commanders. Their schooling consists of games that mimic realistic wartime battles – the best being a zero-gravity arena where small youth armies go head-to-head in laser fights. Does Ender have the chops to make it through training and become the next great leader that his superiors (Harrison Ford and Viola Davis) think he is? Is he the John Conner of this potentially grim future?

If you love the novel, you’ll be pleased to know that, as far as adaptations go, this screenplay is pretty faithful. The fan-favorite characters are all present, although they lack development. The visual effects are good, and the performances are just fine. Of course, sub-plots have been condensed and sped-up. Thank heaven, the elements that frustrated me about the novel’s climax have been adapted in a manner that not only made me like them more, but should pleased even die-hard fans.

‘Ender’s Game’ isn’t a brilliant movie, but it’s a good one. A summer release would have been more fitting than early November, but so long as there aren’t too many boycotters, it ought to do just fine at the box office this weekend.

Rating: ★★★½☆

[Editor’s Note: I will ask that Comments for this post be limited only to the content of the movie itself: its plot, its performances, its direction or visual effects, and so forth. Discussion about the controversy surrounding author Orson Scott Card should be directed to our poll post on that topic. Thank you. –JZ]


  1. hurin

    I’ll also definitely go see it, Ender’s Game is one of my favorite SF novels.

    It’s too bad you can’t trust the reviewers on this movie. When someone gives the movie a bad review, you have to ask yourself, if it’s the movie or Card he has an issue with.

    • Timcharger

      By that logic, if a review is positive, then you have to question if the review was honest or did the reviewer have an anti-gay agenda?

      Logic hurts, if applied correctly, huh? 🙂

  2. Saw it today and thought it was great…it’s able to capture the spirit of the book and doesn’t sidestep the moral questions that the novel raises.

    Harrison Ford gives his second great performance of 2013 (the other, of course, being ’42’) – it’s so nice to see him not phoning it in anymore.

    I kept thinking watching this movie that this is the kind of “hard” sci-fi that I wanted from the two JJ Abrams ‘Star Trek’ movies and never got. The movie is geared toward teens, but it doesn’t pander to them…this is very smart movie. I think it’s destinted to become a cult classic (assuming it doesn’t become a breakout hit).

    Sadly, it will lose some attention with the release of Thor and Catching Fire over the next couple of weeks, and despite the fact that I expect both those films to be entertaining, I don’t think they’ll be able to touch this one in terms of depth.

    I highly recommend checking it out if you have the chance.

    • Shannon, was the theater very crowded?

      I understand that the movie (wisely) cuts out the subplot about the pre-teen blogger who overthrows all the world’s governments, but it keeps the “Speaker for the Dead” epilogue that I also didn’t care for in the book.

      • William Henley

        My theater was packed – mostly teens and pre-teens.

        I am not as thrilled about it as Shannon was, but I did quite enjoy it. It is like one of those movies that is quite enjoyable the first time, but not sure if I would enjoy it on a second viewing knowing the story. As I had not read the book, I was very disappointed in the ending.

        SEMI-SPOILER The ending was VERY anti-climatic to me. It’s like you are building, building, building…. HAHA tricked you, the event you were anticipating has already happened. I felt cheated.

        Despite the age of the actors, the kids did seem like they were around 9-12 years old.

        I found the movie quite enjoyable, but it wasn’t great. I think the issue is that they don’t spend enough time establishing characters, so about the time you just start connecting with characters, the movie ends. It felt like it needed to be about half an hour longer. I haven’t read the book yet, so not sure if adding the subplots would have helped, but spending a bit longer on character development would have been huge.

  3. Les

    My wife and I went to Ender’s Game on Saturday and loved it. I have not read the book. I thought it was a great movie!

    I thought it was way better than Gravity, although, I am sure many will disagree with me based on reviews, etc. Gravity seriously disappointed me, Ender’s Game did not.

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