<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Moises Arias, Suraj Parthasarathy, Aramis Knight, Khylin Rambo
This sci-fi film based on a popular and award-winning novel by Orson Scott Card is yet another tiresome walk into space. But the film looks more like it’s lost in space.
Do you remember After Earth? And Will Smith’s irritating real life son (Jaden Smith) playing his onscreen son battling the elements while a perfectly good Will Smith is just sitting in a chair through most of the film? What’s with these films with kindergarten kids saving the world? Is it the whole Spy Kids thing?
My face was contorted through most of this film. And I was bored. One because the premise was so ridiculously unimaginative. Two because they tried to give it a twist in the last 10 minutes of the film and this fell flat so miserably that I doubted even the filmmakers believed what message they were trying to convey with Ender’s Game.
The film starts off much like Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day ended. A huge fleet of alien ships attacking earth and a sole jet fighter pilot taking his plane directly into the lead ship on a suicide mission thus destroying it and disabling the enemy fleet. Mankind has suffered many millions of losses but the ‘bug’ aliens are sent packing thanks to Mazer Rakham, the hero pilot. What’s with the name? Mazer Rakham, seriously? Yes I know that’s the name in the book but even After Earth has this weird character name for Will Smith – Cypher Raige! What happened to good old-fashioned names like Ripley, Skywalker and Kirk!
Anyway so after the Independence Day rip-off intro we are told that the planet is now preparing so if the aliens ever attack again, they would not be caught off guard. In that effort, Colonel Hyram Graff (Harrison Ford) is ‘teaching’ a bunch of pubescent teenagers how to kill each other. The more violent they are the better.
One such boy who he thinks is going to save the planet is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield from Hugo). Why? Because he kicks a bully in the gut again and again to teach him never to mess with him again. So this skinny little boy is going to lead an invasion fleet to destroy an alien race of bugs with tiny little school mates by his side. Preposterous isn’t it! Even more so since the script lends absolutely no credibility to this premise.
More than half the film is utilised in showing Ender’s (what the fuck is up with that name) ‘training’ on a space station and his apparently ‘genius’ tactics. And all Harrison is doing is watching him on a big hand gesture-controlled screen and doting on him. Viola Davis tries to play the officer with heart who thinks the kids should be kids but she’s poorly utilised.
Ben Kingsley appears with a Maori accent and his usual solemn countenance to guide young Ender’s mind. Ender of course is busy playing video games that tap into his consciousness. Trust me, some of the scenes actually look like you’re in a poor quality video game. And that’s what the whole battle is about too. Simulation with these little tykes destroying hoards of swarming bugs. Will someone tell me why Hollywood is obsessed with bugs as a form of aliens? What happened to the good old skinny, big-eyed, little green men or the ones in the Alien movies or even Predator? Ho-hum creativity, that’s all I can say.
Asa Butterfield does an okay job of portraying a little kid with a big head and ego to boot. But the school ground antics, the bullying and the childhood romance angles just make this all look juvenile and inconsequential. Not once can you believe that anyone would entrust these kids with the fate of the planet. And why, you ask, would they let little children kill and slaughter when there are perfectly good adults on the planet to do it?
That feeling you get that Ender’s Game espouses war and promotes violence in children doesn’t go away even with a convenient ending since you can’t see how this child who is trained in violence against the enemy ultimately ‘loves’ the enemy. The only scene that captures your imagination is the one between Ender and the white queen bug at the end. But it’s useless since it comes after plenty of dawdling and meaningless hyperbole that never lives up to the promise.
Ender’s Game is by far one of the worst sci-fi films I have ever seen since the message has been so massively butchered and thrown in the bin. But more so because it achieves the opposite of what it probably set out to do, which was: making children realise violence is not the solution to most of their problems. It fails miserably at this. And then America wonders why their kids take semi-automatics to schools and kill half their classmates. Atrocious.
This is my NO-STAR film of the year. Not because it’s horribly made. But because it is socially irresponsible and fails utterly as a movie that probably had a very clear message to tell before it even hit the drawing board. They had a book to go by remember!
PS: Read this interesting article by someone else who hated this film and why they did: I Finally Figured Out Why I Hate Ender’s Game… (Business Insider India)