Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfield
Directed by: Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Rendition”)
Written by: Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”)
Based on a well-regarded 1985 young adult novel by Orson Scott Card, the film adaptation of “Ender’s Game” has been a long time coming. The plot concerns a future Earth existing in the aftermath of a devastating attack by an insect-like race of aliens known as Formics. To thwart the next attack, the International Fleet trains the world’s children in an effort to find the next great leader of the armada capable of destroying the Formic threat once and for all. Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford, delivering a halfway-interested performace) believes young cadet Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) to be that child. Ender is shepherded to Battle School by Graff, wherein Ender exhibits a mastery of war games that leads to his being put in charge of the battle to determine the fate of the human race.
While “Ender’s Game” offers a glimpse of a moral compass often missing from space-faring sci-fi, screenwriter and director Gavin Hood never quite manages to get the film going. The whole endeavor feels like a a build up–which I suppose it kind of is, with a series of follow-up novels lined up should this prove to be a hit—and ends up as a dull slog through tropes we just sat through over the course of eight “Harry Potter” movies: the journey of a savior from child to a leader of men. As a result, “Ender’s Game” suffers the same fate as “John Carter,” another long-gestating sci-fi adaptation: it feels like a knock off.
From the first act, Ender’s “chosen one” status is never in doubt. Graff and Major Anderson (a wasted Viola Davis) see something special in Ender through constant surveillance—though the movie never really lets us in on what the big deal is with this kid. Sure, it tells us, repeatedly, through Graff, but it doesn’t show us why. His victories seemingly come too easily. His breeze through Battle School feels rushed and incomplete, problems undoubtedly the result of cramming a lengthy novel into two hours of screen time. Toss in an obtuse iPad-like game featuring an avatar of Ender’s beloved sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) running around a strange castle that the film insists is full of symbolism along with some other confusing technology (so children are more capable than adults at commanding a spacecraft remotely, yet those remote vessels still need crews?) and “Ender’s Game” ends up as another anonymous young adult sci-fi snooze.