Ender’s Game (2013) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

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 


About garethrhodes

Full-time lover of all things creative.
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18 Responses to Ender’s Game (2013) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

  1. halfwelshman says:

    Nice review, I can’t understand how a movie with such dark themes and plot points ended up this dull. Just a note though: it’s spelt “Maori”.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you very much, I have corrected myself. Yes, it is dreadfully dull. Harrison has the exact same expression throughout. He looks more animated in press junkets.

  2. Marta says:

    I’m glad I avoided this one when it came out. The trailer was disappointing and uninspired. Since I liked the book I will stay away from the film adaptation.

  3. dreager1 says:

    Yeah, this film definitely should have been much more exciting. We needed some more alien action and the big twist from the book wasn’t as much of a twist here.

  4. I thought the movie followed the book vastly better than most adaptations. Having read all (8?, 9? not sure exactly how many books there are in the thought chain) the books in the Ender Game series, I was reasonably impressed with the way it was done. To discredit the movie because Ford was portraying a character (fairly accurately) as written does not make it “bad.”
    I’d watch it again…

    • garethrhodes says:

      Well, it’s always good to hear an alternative view. There were things I liked, but I didn’t find myself engaged in the way that I had hoped. As for Harrison Ford, I wouldn’t go as far as to lay the blame star his door, but I thought he looked painfully bored to be there. All this said, I have never read the book, which I accept means that you have insight that I do not.

  5. This film disappointed me a lot! I read the book and that was good (if I remember correctly) but even if I hadn’t saw the film it was extremely bland and full of wooden performances. Great review!

    • garethrhodes says:

      I’m a huge fan of Harrison Ford. For Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Blade Runner – I count him as one of THE coolest people on the planet. His heart wasn’t in this, though.

      • To be honest, none of their hearts were in it. You have Oscar nominees Hailee Steinfeld and Viloa Davis, Asa Butterfield and many more talented actors and yet it just didn’t work.

      • garethrhodes says:

        Good point! There is a sense that everyone is struggling on some level to immerse themselves into the material. I felt as though things were skimmed over, somewhat.

  6. filmfunkel says:

    I too was impressed at how close they got to the book. Of course, I’ve no idea what I’d think of this film if I’d never read it.

    I think I can see where, trying to keep such dark themes kid-friendly, they unintentionally landed closer to ‘bland’ or ‘simple-handed’.

    Hrmm : / I may just have to have a re-read & re-watch…

    • garethrhodes says:

      Having never read the novel, I’d bow to your insight, in terms of judging the film next to it. It’s always interesting to see a film after having read a book. The decisions we make in our own heads are often so different to what we expect to see on screen.

      For me, the film had its moments – and there were a few 10-minute periods where I could actually say that I was enjoying it, but it couldn’t sustain that for long enough. I can see the germ of a great idea, had the approach and tone been shifted. Of course, this is only my opinion.

  7. filmfunkel says:

    Oh, no need for that: if a film fails, it fails no matter how close to its source material it gets. It really does have to rise or fall all on its own.

    I now wonder if I was distracted; pleased the film did something I didn’t think it could do. I may not have been watching its scenes as much as annotating them.

    …The plot thickens. : D

  8. Chris Evans says:

    Another top review good sir, I’ve had this on my Netflix watch list for a while but haven’t been able to drum up enough enthusiasm to actually watch it!

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