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Ender’s Game Review: No One Is Safe From the Effects of War

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Ender’s Game, starring Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford, is directed by Gavin Hood and is based on Orson Scott Card’s novel of the same name. The futuristic tale features an Earth reeling from an attack by an alien race known as the Formics. Seventy years prior to the events of the film the insect-like Formics descended upon Earth with advanced technologies, nearly defeating the human race. Thanks to the brave and heroic Mazer Rackham, Earth’s International Fleet Commander, the Formics get defeated in one fell swoop, which immediately turns him into a legendary figure for the human race.

With the Formics seemingly defeated, the International Military begins beefing up its forces and future commanders to prevent another extinction-sized attack, and this is where Ender’s Game’s narrative is rooted, seventy years after the Rackham event.

Due to the Formics attack and Rackham’s heroics, the International Military began implementing programs to help identify young children who have the knack for war, namely commanding strategies and tactics. Ender Wiggin is a candidate for the IM’s advanced programs created to mold gifted young children into hardened battle commanders with the ability to outthink Formics forces, and he immediately comes under the attention of Colonel Graff (Ford). Through a series of tests that would be considered highly invasive in this day and age, Ender is ultimately chosen to continue his studies at the IM’s Battle School that floats in Earth’s atmosphere to train the young cadets for their ultimate purpose.

While at Battle School Ender’s prowess for command and military tactics make him stand out amongst the pack, ultimately making him a target for harassment amongst his peers. He’s constantly challegened by his classmates, Graff, and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) to become the commander they know him to be. Even with all of the obstacles in his way Ender manages to continually impress his superiors, while also earning the respect of his peers and his enemies. This leads him to being promoted to Command School, where he goes on to train under the IM’s most famous tacticians, and eventually he’s able to defeat any Formics war simulation presented to him and his team of child warriors.

Ender and his fellow cadets are constantly tested with war games while at Battle School.
Ender and his fellow cadets are constantly tested with war games while at Battle School.

Ender is the soldier the International Military has been searching for the past 70 years, but how they go about coaxing his abilities out of him is what makes this film so intriguing. The movie clearly draws parallels to our modern day society, namely the US led war on terror. The practice of preemptive strikes to avoid future wars is at the center of Ender’s Game, as the IM invests all of its time and resources into handpicking natural born commanders who have the ability to defeat the Formics on their home turf using wildly imaginative strategies.

Even though the Formics haven’t tried to launch another attack since the first invasion, the Earth’s military forces want to ensure that they never attack again. This motif is highlighted multiple times throughout the film as Ender employs the same tactic to avoid bullying and other future attacks on his character. His ability to break the mind and spirit of his foes is what leads to him being handpicked by Graff, who is expertly portrayed as a hard nosed military leader by Harrison Ford in the film.

Graff is willing to put Ender and all of the young recruits through grueling tests full of deception, without any regard for their mental stability. He, like some of today’s world leaders, is willing to compromise morality in the name of victory, even if victory means sacrificing millions of lives in the process to prove a point, or to prevent future war. Throughout the movie Graff’s actions don’t seem to be questionable, thanks to Ford’s Fatherly portrayal of the character, but the rushed ending reveals that he hasn’t always been truthful about how he’s handled Ender and his team of young cadets.

Graff (Ford) is willing to do what it takes to defeat the Formics for good
Graff (Ford) is willing to do what it takes to defeat the Formics for good

The character of Graff is a medium that helps to highlight the constant moral choices that need to be made during times of war and panic, while Ender, played by Asa Butterfiled, represents the sacrifices that need to be made when living in a world always on the brink of war. Butterfield’s command over the character of Ender also helps to bring out the emotional side of this film, which I didn’t expect to experience going into it, but there were more than a few occasions that had my insides feeling for Ender’s struggles and successes. Both his physical portrayal of the character, and the way he delivers some of the weighty lines really helps to distinguish Ender as a special young boy who has a deep understanding of the world. Watching him overcome those who have put him down, or treated him harshly, will make any human cheer for his triumphs, so expect a few feel good moments to overcome you while watching Ender’s Game.

This film is ultimately about the journey of Ender Wiggin, but it does provide a few parallels to modern times en route to casting more light on a quote shown at the beginning of the movie. The quote read, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” This quote is spoken by Ender, but not until the final moments will you understand how he came to speak it, and why he spoke it. There’s power behind it, and it’s unfortunate that the scenes that lead up to its meaning feel quite rushed. It’s a poignant statement on the art of war, and one that many military leaders have surely faced while making preparations for victory.

Ender (Butterfield) plays a war game using an advanced Kinect interface
Ender (Butterfield) plays a war game using an advanced Kinect interface

Ender’s Game could have definitely benefited from a 2.5 hour run time to help flesh out the pivotal last act, which packs a major plot reveal, but feels flat thanks to the rapid delivery of the final 30-minutes of the movie. Regardless, both the acting and narrative make for a fantastic science fiction film that will present you with a gamut of emotions from start to finish. It’s a movie that will make you want to learn more about its universe once you leave your theater seat, so there’s a good chance Card’s novels are about to get a spike in sales. If you’re up for some solid special effects, quality acting, and an entertaining narrative that draws on themes from real life, then Ender’s Game is a movie that should be added to your “must-watch” list in 2013.

 [schema type=”review” name=”Ender’s Game | Review Summary” description=”The Awesome: Great effects, Solid cast, Inspiring scenes, Gaming | The Not so Awesome: Deception, Bonzo” rev_name=”Ender’s Game” rev_body=”Ender’s Game is directed by Gavin Hood and is based on Orson Scott Card’s novel of the same name. It stars Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield as Colonel Graff and Ender respectively. Graff and the International Military have begun searching for the next brilliant commanders amongst young adults, and Ender is the latest contender chosen as the next savior of humanity. Along his way to becoming the next great IM commander he has to deal with adversity and inner conflicts that lead to him questioning if what he’s doing is the right thing to do. The finale is slightly rushed, but overall Ender’s Game is an entertaining sci-fi flick that’ll make you think about the morality of war.” author=”Matt Heywood” pubdate=”2013-11-04″ user_review=”8.5″ min_review=”0″ max_review=”10″ ]

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Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of EntertainmentBuddha.com where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he's not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB's Star Wars Time podcast show.