Ender’s Game: Passable but Generic ★★★


“Ender’s Game” isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t likely to be remembered among similar films of its genre.

Since its release in 1985, the novel Ender’s Game has garnered much attention and accumulated millions of readers. Given the popularity of the novel, a movie adaptation was bound to be made at some point. Now that the movie has been made, does it live up to the expectations of the fans, or does it join the long list of failed book-movie adaptations?

Ender’s Game tells the tale of a hyper-intelligent, 12-year-old Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, following a series of invasions by a mysterious, insectoid alien race called the Formics. Ender attends a normal school and lives out his life on earth. In preparation for a third war, the Earth formed the International Fleet (I.F.). The I.F., believing that children possess the best qualities and will excel in the coming war if properly trained, recruits Ender and hundreds of other incredibly intelligent children for their space academy, Battle School. Ender possesses a great deal of empathy and develops a flair for strategy, as he befriends his fellow cadets and overcomes adversity. Over time, he deals with increasingly strenuous training as he prepares for a final showdown with the Formics.

The movie is well produced. The visual effects are adequate; nothing that has not been seen before.  The visual effects are most prevalent in the flashy mock-battles held at Battle School, and are implemented subtly enough that they do not stand out in a distracting way. Sound effects, likewise, perform their desired goal. Sounds of space combat grab the viewer’s attention; ambient sounds of Battle School permeate other scenes.  The musical score, too, is appropriate for the various scenes: intense when action is at the forefront, somber when events sour, and cryptic when mysteries are present. All in all, the sights and sounds of Ender’s Game are good, if not particularly memorable.

Casting is handled well, for the most part. Asa Butterfield –star of the smash hit Hugo –performs admirably as Ender, portraying his mixture of confidence and weakness in a near-perfect manner. Superstar Harrison Ford skillfully brings the manipulative Colonel Graff to life. Ender’s friends and the rest of the supporting cast generally do a good job as well. Hailee Steinfeld –from True Grit –performs the part of Petra fairly well, though lacked the Butterfield and Ford deliver their dialogue meaningfully, ensuring that each line carries its intended weight and importance. A particularly memorable scene early on in the movie is when Graff recruits Ender. Butterfield acts submissively while his father objects. Ford gruffly asserts that despite the father’s best efforts, nothing can be done to stop him. The viewer can feel the powerful emotions swirling around the scene, thanks in large part to Ford and Butterfield’s performance.

In general, Ender’s Game diverges a fair amount from the novel it is based on. Some changes are minor, relating to character interpretations and plot sequence. Other changes, however, are huge.  Rather than being recruited as a six-year-old and then living out many years of his life at Battle School, Ender’s training consist of a few months, if not weeks. Ender’s fear of becoming a monster like his older brother is merely glossed over in the movie, while it is a central tenet of his growth in the novel. In the movie, Ender’s friends –with the exception of Petra –come across as somewhat generic and it becomes hard to differentiate them, which is quite different from the colorful characters of the novel.

The movie additionally has issues with pacing. Important events happen frequently, without much time for consideration in between. One moment, Ender arrives at Battle School. Then he attends class and goads a bully. The next moment, he practices in the Battle Room. The harried pace continues on in much the same manner for the entirety of the film. This makes the film come across as rushed and somewhat confusing if the viewer does not have prior knowledge of the plot.

The ending is condensed and simplified, yet maintains the spirit of the novel’s end. All of the changes and simplifications, in total, end up improving the movie rather than hindering it. The changes allow the movie to portray the essence of the story without getting tangled up in the novel’s tangents and side plots. This portrayal allows for a much more unified and satisfying story.

In the end, though, is the movie worth watching? Yes, the movie is well-presented and a worthy experience. It is not likely to win many awards, but it is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon for a longtime series fan or a newcomer.