Ender’s Game (2013)

Untitled-1The International Fleet is a fascinating organisation. It is omnipresent. It has bases and camps on Earth, in space, and on other planets. It has approximately 10 platoons in its battle training facility (seven of which might be imaginary, since we never see any of them). The battle training facility itself is state-of-the-art, seamlessly blending simulated and zero gravity. It issues out uniforms on loan from the janitor’s funhouse. It believes children are better at defeating aliens than adults are. And for every cadet under its command, there are 0.056 commanding officers.

A bit confused by that last one? Consider the ratio of adult characters to children characters. There are, at any given time, only three senior officers. They are Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), Major Anderson (Viola Davis), and Colonel Rackham (Ben Kingsley). That’s it. Everywhere we travel in the movie, whether it’s Earth, space stations, or interplanetary bases, it’s always the same three officers. Did the Fleet recently downsize, or did the movie? Maybe the other officers are on strike for new uniforms? Oh sure, at the end we see a whole room full of other important people, but they look as if they’ve been chucked together at the last minute, as a thought and not an idea. There’s a sergeant too, and he’s also everywhere. Seriously. This Fleet needs a quicker system of promotion.

But wait! It does. Meet Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), our protagonist. He is, according to Graff, “perfect” and “the one”. In what way is he perfect? God alone knows. His skill is tested and observed through iPad games that are completely baseless and don’t seem to function on any sort of controls. He starts out as a lowly cadet, earns a spot in the battle facility because he beats up a bully, is kicked around from platoon to platoon like a beach volleyball, is miraculously promoted to Commanding Officer, and makes Admiral before the end credits roll. Wow. Now that is a quick system of promotion. It’s a wonder his fellow cadets haven’t assassinated him yet.

What is he “the one” for? He has to prevent an alien species from invading Earth a second time. They invaded once, almost succeeded, and were ultimately driven back by the destruction of their mothership — “It’s been 50 years and they’ve never come back”, Ender observes. Yes, but Graff is a paranoid soldier. Prevention is better than cure! Is it not?

The movie, based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card and written by director Gavin Hood, pays little to no attention to the development of the Fleet, its officers, its cadets, or even the aliens. Who are the aliens? What do they want? Are they malicious, or simply misunderstood? Why is Graff so desperate to obliterate them? Their behaviour is compared to that of ants, and yet they more closely resemble wasps or hornets. They like to swarm their enemies and burrow deep into the ground, away from the sunlight. But why? And to what end? Where did they come? And why did they invade Earth all those years ago? Surely so many questions cannot bode well for the story. And I haven’t even moved on to the human characters yet.

But I shan’t. There is no point. The only way to enjoy Ender’s Game — if you can enjoy it at all — is to accept it as a story of the here and now. Its characters are living in the present, working at problems of the present to prevent more ominous problems of the future. There is no why. There is only how. And how this movie executes some of its developments is a testament to Hood, whose X-Men Origins movie about Wolverine shares some of this movie’s explosive flair. What is lacking in both, though, is a sense of humanity. In this movie, young kids are forced into war. There are certainly some moral issues there. But there should be more to them. More dimension and depth. Butterfield plays Ender deftly, but I get the feeling he doesn’t know why he’s doing it. As in the movie, he is merely following orders without the right to question them. The same can be said of Ford, Davis, Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld, and the others. There is more to warfare than obedience. I make this statement, and amuse myself by it, because this entire premise hangs on a lack of obedience, and relies instead on intuition. If Hood had paid closer attention to his intuition, he might have crafted a better movie.

Best Moment | I enjoyed some of the bunk scenes. And I particularly enjoyed the scenes in the zero gravity chamber. Sure looked like fun. More fun than it did in Gravity.

Worst Moment | Sergeant Dap’s humorous yelling. Someone get Sergeant Hartman in here! On the double!

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