Movie review: This 'Game' isn't that fun

MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICENovember 1, 2013 

Asa Butterfield, center, as Ender, commands the other child warriors — Suraj Partha, Hailee Steinfeld and Aramis Knight — in “Ender’s Game.”

  • ENDER'S GAME

    **

    Rated: PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material. Starring: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Suraj Partha, Aramis Knight, Ben Kingsley. Director: Gavin Hood. Running time: 114 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 22 and Edwards 9 in Boise, Edwards 14 and Edwards 12 in Nampa, Majestic 18 and Village Cinema in Meridian.

In a future where families are encouraged not to overbreed, Ender Wiggin is "a third," the third child born to his family. "An extra."

Skinny and pale, he is bullied at school. But he's been observed, singled out by the state. How he problem-solves during video games, how he copes with bullies - his cunning, ruthlessness and measured compassion - are assets.

"The world's smartest children are our best hope," military leaders tell each other. And Ender (Asa Butterfield) is such a "best hope," chosen for Battle School, selected to be a leader because young adult fiction desperately needs another "chosen one."

"Ender's Game," based on Orson Scott Card's novel, is a glossy, humorless march through a future where kids are our best warriors, able to multitask combat duties and reason out strategies for battle success. Card's military meritocracy, on the screen, plays like "Starship Troopers" without a tongue-in-cheek touch to its fascism.

But in the hands of South African director Gavin Hood ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine"), the story's moral quandary, about kids learning to kill before they learn compassion, is front and center.

"Ender's Game" follows Ender into Battle School, where his ability to master the skills of combat command are on display.

"We need a Julius Caesar, a Napoleon," growls Col. Graff (Harrison Ford).

They're all still children, argues the yin to his yang, Major Anderson (Viola Davis).

Indeed they are - martial, militaristic kids culled from the population, formed into teams and trained for battle in weightless simulations where they learn tactics that will serve them in Earth's war for survival against the Formics, bug-eyed space-travelers who almost conquered Earth decades before.

Ender is not the heartless killer his older brother (Jimmy "Jax" Pinchak) is, not the empathetic pacifist his sister (Abigail Breslin) turned out to be. Threatened by a rival, he outthinks or outfights each one in his turn.

Butterfield ("Hugo") makes a fine soldier-in-the-making, but barely suggests a mind that is broadening in spite of the narrow, kill-or-be-killed focus of his training. Moises Arias and Hailee Steinfeld are well-cast as part of this multicultural school of the best and the brightest.

But even taking into account the limitations of an "introduction to a franchise" film, "Ender's Game" is pretty stiff. Shiny spaceships, vivid space battles and kids who don't quite fill out their jumpsuits are all fine. With all the bullying and kids-turned-into-killers stuff, the film never feels less than heavy-handed.

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service