Ender’s Game (2013) Directed by Gavin Hood. With Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfiled, Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis and Abigail Breslin.
A kid (Asa Butterfield), brilliant at video games is drafted into an elite academy to play a crucial role in an intergalactic war. No, you’re not watching the joy-fest that is 1984’s The Last Starfighter – this is Ender’s Game, Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s science-fiction novel of the same name.
At times, you might wish you were watching something with lighter aspirations. This is an attempt to carve out some heavyweight sci-fi, front-loaded with a text about the nature of modern warfare -the most effective soldiers aren’t those with the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but those with the edge to outwit their opponents. Although it looks sleek and polished, Hood’s film continually struggles to breakout of itself, leaving behind a trail of competent, but ineffectual scenes; many of which feature a bored-looking Harrison Ford as a senior military bod, Colonel Graff, and the willing Asa Butterfield in the title role.
Butterfield, who after having starred in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, is clearly a gifted young actor. Although the film creaks and cracks under the weight of its own idea, he nevertheless emerges as curious, deftly unnerving presence. There is a sense that some of this taps into the kind of trends we’ve seen in modern cinema; The Hunger Games, Divergent etc – and like those films, it never quite convinces itself, or us. This included, there is something distinctly anodyne about these films – in the sense that they are packaged as a product for everyone, yet they often lack the courage of their narrative convictions. Like the aforementioned, great actors unexpectedly appear (a Māori Ben Kingsley here – yes, you read right) to clock in a shift. All it achieves is to reinforce a sense of detachment as you try not to snigger at an overacting Ben Kingsley doing his best Māori accent, complete with full facial tattoo.
What is for sure, is that intergalactic war was a lot more fun in the ’70’s and ’80’s. Hell, even Paul Verhoeven’s underrated Starship Troopers managed to sell it better. In the end, Ender’s Game falls as flat as Harrison Ford’s one-note performance. Despite boasting beautiful set-design and array of visual effects – it is an overly solemn experience with an unearned sense of its own heft. Although there is a final third suggestion of a sequel, it will struggle to attain as much as cult status over the next few decades. 2.5/5