Saturday 26 October 2013

Review: Ender's Game (Spoilers)

World of Blackout Film Review

Ender's Game Poster

Ender's Game (Caution: spoilers. MASSIVE SPOILERS.)
Cert: 12A / 114 mins / Dir. Gavin Hood

I found Gavin Hood's adaptation of Orson Scott Card's celebrated work to be oddly infuriating at times. In short, I thought it started strongly but played all its best cards in the first two acts, so that by the point where I was meant to be on the edge of my seat, I'd pretty much stopped caring about anyone on-screen.

The film does a great job of setting up Andrew Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) as a conflicted but determined cadet; a tactical genius who remains likeable (to the audience at least) as he whizzes past his peers toward military greatness. Butterfield's performance is remarkable and you don't doubt if for a second. You just kinda doubt everybody else's. Harrison Ford's Graff repeatedly states to his contemporaries that Ender's ultimate goal will be to sacrifice himself during the ultimate battle with the alien invaders in order to save mankind, even though that makes little sense the first time he says it, and less as the film goes on. Despite the film's proclamation that 'we need a new kind of commander', there seems to be little actual proof of that requirement*1, and other than developing a telepathic link with a species light-years away, Ender seems to show nothing above the level of technical brilliance you'd expect from someone in that position anyway.

So given that the International Space Fleet's proposed tactic appears to be turning up at the enemy's house fifty years later and unleashing planetary genocide, why do they need a surgeon's scalpel to achieve what a sledgehammer could do? Although I understand Ender's subsequent distress at carrying out such an act, what did he think he was being employed for, to have a game of snakes and ladders with the Formics?

The first two acts look and sound magnificent (especially the zero-gravity segments), and even Harrison Ford's deadpanning works in context, building up the tension as Ender's career escalates almost out of his control. But the film's finale skirts too close to watching someone playing a video game (for obvious reasons), and ultimately I felt almost as cheated as Ender. Viola Davis and Hailee Steinfeld seem largely wasted, but only because you've seen them both do so much more, and it's just not needed here. So, maybe I just hoped I'd be grabbed more firmly by a story with such a successful lineage. Maybe it's too close to hard sci-fi for me? As usual with this sort of thing, I suspect any issues I have with it are between me and the story, rather than the film itself. But it feels like the film should be more.

From the heavily-applied morality-of-war dilemmas, through to the wandering vocal stylings of Sir Ben*2, Ender's Game is a bit of a jumble, and it didn't all fit as neatly as I wanted it to. I know the idea of the film is to ask difficult questions but I suspect that with more time and less of a partisan approach, the books manage it a lot more pertinently.
Wanted to like the film more, but just couldn't.

Is the trailer representative of the film?
It sets up the why, if not the how.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
For the first two acts, yes.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
For the first two acts, yes.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
It does look marvellous on a big screen.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Will I watch it again?
Not for a while, at least.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
I didn't hear one.

And because you won't be happy until I've given it a score...
^^ I feel like I should mark it more highly than mid-points, but the fact is that the last act bored me, and it's left me with little more than a niggling dissatisfaction.

And my question for YOU is…
And they're just going to let him go off in a military shuttle, are they, with an apparently indefinite amount of supplies and an oddly pulsating holdall, looking for a planet to essentially infect with a species that's already proven itself to be openly hostile once in the past? Oh, alright then.

*1 Another point which is nullified once Ender works out that he's not the only one to have spotted patterns in the enemy behaviour. He shares this trait with the other Great War Hero who didn't need to sacrifice himself to win. Which everyone in high-command knows.
*2 Seriously. He's got Maori tattoos, and has a paragraph or so where he explains that he's got Maori tattoos, any why. We don't need the 'sounds more like an Australian but we're sure no-one will notice' accent as well.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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