29th Oct2013

‘Ender’s Game’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha, Moises Arias | Written and Directed by Gavin Hood

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Already saddled with the “Star Wars meets Harry Potter” moniker which may get initial bums on seats but will surely risk alienating those who did encounter it, Ender’s Game instead emerges as a morally complex and thematically rich film which certainly gets itself lost in translation from its original source in spots but emerges as one of the oddest and boldest kids films of recent years, recalling the likes of Gil Kenan’s underseen and underrated City of Ember more than the aforementioned franchises used in the film’s marketing.

Based on an immensely popular book by now infamous not very nice guy Orson Scott Card, Gavin Hood’s adaptation gives us plenty of whizz and bang but also quite a lot to consider. Asa Butterfield’s Ender is a conflicted and troubled young man, stuck between letting empathy dictate his actions or letting violence do his talking. Stuck between these two stalls, somewhat clunkily shown on screen by having him be the emotional middle in a 3-child household, he begins a journey where he will grow up to be a man through horrific circumstances. Butterfield who impressed but didn’t quite light the screen as much as those around him in Hugo a couple of years back puts in a stronger performance here, crafting a flawed hero who is all the more satisfying for showing us the frailty within.

This idea also surprisingly extends to Harrison Ford’s Graff, a character who could have fallen into being the Dumbledore of this story but instead is something else. Putting Ender through the ringer for his own end, though these ends are for the ostensiable “greater good”, his is a character who is neither wholly good or simply “evil”, the light and dark of the Star Wars universe certainly not in play here, instead a honed character who makes tough choices but has a hard time in doing them despite not being allowed to show it. It’s the best Ford has been for a while, feeling connected to the material throughout and not feeling like just cashing a paycheck.

The ideas and the performances, along with high production value, make the film very pleasureable to sit through but it must be said that there’s connective tissue throughout that feels a little lacking. Ender’s progression through the ranks is enabled incredibly quickly with few real obstacles for him to overcome. He has enemies but they are dealt with swiftly and Ender never faces anything you don’t feel he can’t get by quickly. This is somewhat negated however by the final act which gives us much more daring psychological problems for him to deal with a third act which I couldn’t quite believe made it to the screen in the rather full-on way it does. It’s the kind of stuff that spells word-of-mouth posion but will hopefully be cherished in the years ahead.

Ender’s Game is quite the oddity. A film torn by its own need to be a blockbuster while dealing with dark material which feels rare even in the realm of more adult-aimed cinema, the end result is a film which at times feels hampered by this but sticks in the mind as an intelligent and somewhat thought-provoking film which will challenge many who see it whether young or old, and that in itself merits it as a very solid recommendation.

Ender’s Game is in cinemas now.

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