Not having read the book, I have very mixed feelings about "Ender's Game". While I found it to be well-acted (except for Harrison Ford) and visually entertaining, the premise of a 12-year-old becoming the military leader of Planet Earth is a tad disturbing.
I am aware that Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel won Hugo and Nebula Awards, and that it has inspired millions worldwide to read and continue reading. Though I'm not a fan of such futuristic imaginings, I can certainly appreciate their value and creativity. That said, if you are not a devotee, like me, this will all seem preposterous.
Asa Butterfield is mesmerizing as Ender Wiggins, the incredibly brilliant pre-teen who is chosen to take on this mighty task. He is plucked from a group of extraordinary children and sent to command school by Colonel Hyrum Graff (Ford). After proving himself over and over in every form of "battle" amongst his peers, he is further schooled by Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), a famous warrior believed long dead.
Ender must prove himself worthy of the post as military leader of all of Earth's forces by succeeding in the simulated war games which he and his chosen crew must wage against enemy forces. Although all of the action which transpires is fascinating and thrilling, I couldn't help wonder what happened to all of the 20, 30 or 40-something military leaders of the past. It is those thoughts that drive me crazy while watching a film.
Hailee Steinfeld also stars as Petra Arkanian, Ender's friend and fellow warrior. She's much more suited for a role such as this than as Juliet in the recent "Romeo & Juliet". Steinfeld is a strong, confident actress who takes on the role as confidante and defender well.
Viola Davis is convincing as Major Gwen Anderson, the only adult at the command school who seems to have Ender's best interests at heart. She is such a terrific actress, and I would love to see her in bigger, better roles. Ford, however, overacts, as usual. Could casting agents please find someone else to play the taciturn, middle-aged character? Ford is getting a little long in the tooth for these roles, and there is nothing worse than seeing the hole for his real-life earring when the camera shoots a close-up.
If you're a fan, then "Ender's Game" is a must see on the big screen, preferably an IMAX. It is a visual wonder --- stunning, in fact. I'm just not a fan ---
Opinion: See It Now! (if you must ---)
Set in the distant future, Earth is under imminent attack from a species of ant-like aliens called Formics. Rather than depend on adult politicians and military bigwigs to thwart the enemy, the powers-that-be turn to the country's youth, who must compete in various arenas for the coveted job of Battle Commander. The prevailing theory holds that young people are so skilled at techie gamesmanship and strategy that they are the best suited to defeat the invading Formic army.
If one can believe this supposition, then it is possible to buy into the idea of a scrawny, 98-pound weakling to be the planet's savior. Without a decent performance by its 16-year-old leading man --- er, boy ---- "Ender's Game" would fall flat on its science fiction derriere. But Asa Butterfield ("Hugo", "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas") is equal to the task. As Ender Wiggins, Butterfield is convincing in the role, especially as he confronts opposition from all sides. Of course, he ultimately manages to gain the necessary trust and respect of his fellow soldiers to have a chance at success.
Ender must also earn the confidence of his elders, mainly Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis). They put Ender through a battery of strategic tests and psychological challenges, culminating in a war games competition against another team of hopeful teenagers, led by the irascible Bonzo Madrid (Moises Arias, "The Kings of Summer").
This must be the year of the anti-gravity blockbuster. If you thought Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating in space was a neat trick, you'll enjoy "Ender's Game", featuring a flock of actors cavorting inside a man-made orb of weightlessness. It's a very well-conceived special effect.
Based on the book by Orson Scott Card, writer/director Gavin Hood has faithfully followed the novel, at least according to a friend who attended the IMAX screening with me. He loved the film, and when I asked if young Butterfield was a good choice to play the lead, he emphatically endorsed him. So will viewers who have not read the book still be entertained by "Ender's Game"? Surely, although the battle scenes could have been shortened by at least 10 minutes.
As for the remaining cast, Ender has a sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin, "Little Miss Sunshine", "Zombieland"), and is befriended on the orbiting battle station by Petra (Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit", "Romeo & Juliet"). Ben Kingsley appears as the heavily-tattooed Mazer Rackham, a former military hero.
But "Ender's Game", the movie, belongs to Asa Butterfield, the actor. He doesn't stumble once, and exhibits a credible emotional reaction when he realizes the consequences of his actions. Again, without his performance and a gaggle of creative visual effects, this film might warrant a pass.
Opinion: See It Now!