Ender’s Game (2013) – Review

It’s a bit like putting my youngest child in Heathrow Airport’s Flight Control tower and just letting him get on with it. I’m sorry, really I am, but I simply cannot buy into an annoyingly precocious child being responsible for the safety of all mankind, with the power of all of humanity’s armed forces at his disposal. I don’t care how much training (not much, evidently) he is purported to have had or whether or not he has been bred and nurtured for this very purpose. I am not eleven.

Adapted from the book (not read it, sorry, nor am I going to) this tale of one child’s training as a future Admiral in the next Starship Troopers sequel (oh alright, I take that back) has had its own set of problems, development-wise, judging by just how long it took to reach us. Pitched as a sci-fi with eye candy, exploring more than the average number of themes for this type of thing, our hero, Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield) takes destiny and apparent fate by the scruff of the neck and goes about trying to save us all from the evil Formics, a race of bug-type aliens that previously tried to colonise earth some fifty years earlier, ultimately failing, but killing tens of millions in the attempt. Ever since, plans have been afoot to take this war to the enemy planet and do away with them once and for all. And the best people to tactically outsmart the foe on this possible final day of freedom are apparently young children with no actual experience of warmongering whatsoever. So, a global blockbuster epic of galactic proportions. And with it, a hefty $110 million in the making.

Perhaps it’s because I never read the book(s), but I didn’t know or care who any of these people were. The film takes alot for granted with regard to its audience, assuming that we have a clue what the hell is going on in the lives of everyone involved, what their motivations are and what, if any, relevance they have to events taking place. Such hefty production expenses would usually have to ensure that the film reached as many people as possible, but it really didn’t feel like the previously uninitiated were being considered, which is unfortunate, given that this would have comprised most the paying members of the audience.

Add to this the incredulity that those very same audience members will have felt by having this young man in charge of their very existence and just how likely, even in magical Hollywoodland, that would actually be. I can swallow quite a bit, but even this seemed more far-fatched than the clearly questionable premise was to begin with.

Now I don’t want to come across as a bully, but Asa Butterfield really doesn’t have the gravitas to pull off a tactical master of the universe. For a start, he looks like he’s about twelve, he has no charisma to speak of that would garner any kind of respect, especially from other children, who are, without doubt, the most difficult of demographics to get any kind of common-sense, consideration and deliberation out of. Even more so with teenagers. His direction may have been to play Ender as understated and thoughtful, but these qualities are not enough to make this character believable. Age is not on his side here, and what he lacks in years, he must therefore make up for in other areas. Sadly, this was not the case.

Perhaps there are elements of Ender that we (them that didn’t read the book) are not aware of. Again, we return to the problem of the characters not being fleshed out well enough for the more clueless in the audience (ie, me) to appreciate. I just don’t know. I didn’t read the book, so I don’t know. What I do know is that I felt like I must be missing something fairly relevent to a plot that I was largely unaparty to.

The performances from the grown-ups on show were all pretty good, though none were outstanding. Harrison Ford, Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley all supported the fledging war-maker suitably, although most of the time, they appeared to be just as reticent as me to believe this mere slip of a boy could muster enough respect to command a trip to the shops, far less potential genocide of an entire alien race.

Looked pretty but lacked a cohesive narrative that the newcomer to the stories could follow and was sorely lacking with the choice of Butterfield as the lead. Not to be too harsh on him, but the finger of blame should probably go to the casting department in this regard, for choosing an actor that already had a serious handicap in this area, through no real fault of his own.

This will come and go and you probably won’t notice.

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