Ender’s Game feels like well-trod territory at this point, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t ask some pointed questions about the morality of war — and entertain the audience at the same time.
Based on the novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game is set in the near future where Earth is at war with the Formics, an alien race supposedly bent on the destruction of humans.
There has already been one war with the Formics, where many humans died trying to save their planet. This war caused the military to start its own training program for its genius child soldiers.
Ender Wiggins, an 11-year-old genius among geniuses, is chosen to enroll in Battle School under the command of Colonel Graff, played to growling perfection by Harrison Ford.
Ender’s weakness is also his great strength — he hates to fight so much that he allows himself to violently attack any enemy once in an attempt to stave off any future attacks. This righteous fury results in him sending a bully to the hospital. After this incident, Colonel Graff selects Ender to attend Battle School, where he will lead other children in a series of war games designed to test their strategic intelligence.
What follows is like a child’s version of outer-space Top Gun.
Only the best of the best are chosen to go to Battle School, and the competition is intense. The children are required to participate in a series of battle simulations with other teams.
Ender quickly rises to the top ranks because he is willing to sacrifice other members of his team for the greater good of winning, a trait that figures large in the film’s finale.
Asa Butterfield’s Ender is a strategically calculating child that could explode with anger one moment, and then feel guilty about his anger the next. It’s easily the best performance of the movie.
Ford is doing what he does best here, scowling and growling his way through a performance that could have easily gone campy.
Viola Davis is severely underused as the child psychologist who examines the toll that the war is having on the children. She should have received more screen time.
The special effects are great to look at, but aren’t visionary. This is definitely one to see in IMAX, though. However, go to this movie for the special effects, and stay for the social commentary.
Ender’s Game is a good commentary on the morality of war and whether or not preemptive measures are necessary to defend a country. It’s especially relevant in today’s post-9/11 society, where President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” was anything but.
There’s a tense scene where Colonel Graff is arguing with Ender about specific tactics used during warfare.
“We won, that’s all that matters!” Graff shouts.
“No, the way we win matters!” Ender screams back at him.
Is war justified? Is a preemptive strike on another planet (or country) okay, even if that other country might simply be stockpiling in defense of the last time they were attacked? Is it right to send a younger generation to fight a war started by an older generation?
All of these questions came to mind as I was watching Ender’s Game, and even though the book was published 28 years ago, those questions are even more relevant today.