Ender's Game Review: Younkin's Scale

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70 years after a horrific alien war, an unusually gifted child is sent to an advanced military school in space to prepare for a future invasion. Starring Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin, Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis & Hailee Steinfeld.
3.5

With Thanksgiving coming up, I think I could name a few things about “Enders Game” that I’m thankful for. I’m thankful that it has more of a soul than “John Carter”, that it’s not another in a recent string of lame alien invasion movies (“Battleship”, “Battlefield LA”), that any political views expressed by author Orson Scott Card are instantly forgotten and replaced by the views of the film, and that writer-director Gavin Hood has learned a thing or two about excitement after 2009’s “Wolverine”.

 

The film stars Asa Butterfield (remembered from last year’s “Hugo”) as Ender, a genius who may be humanity’s last hope if an alien species known as the Formics ever decide to attack again. Somehow we’ve discovered that young adults have more of a capacity for complex data, making them prime candidates (targets?) for training if another war should arise. Col. Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis) see him as a recruit for higher levels of training.

 

Much of this first story in Card’s series of books focuses on simulations. Ender and other “Launchies” are put into a competition with each other during battle school, where zero-gravity laser tag fights lead to majestic, awe-inspiring action sequences and playing video games cleverly challenges them to think tactics as well as confront emotional realities. But that’s nothing compared with the almost prison-like atmosphere of aggression that exists between candidates. This is not jovial Hogwarts, these kids are slowly losing themselves to pressure and the darker side of the violence they are trained for.

 

The ending is like the most dizzying and intense game of Battleship you’ve ever played and it flawlessly combines both the tactical lessons and the harsher realities of war that the rest of the film has touched upon. You WANT to see what happens next here.

 

Butterfield gets this brainy kid (he looks like a young Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory”), giving Ender a vulnerable emotional center and a will to challenge authority he sees as unjust. His scenes with a typically good Harrison Ford are excellent.  Ben Kingsley also shows up with Maori tattoos on his face for a handful of good scenes. The women, from Davis to Abigail Breslin, as Ender’s sister, and Haillee Steinfeld, as a fellow recruit, just seem to show up on occasion. Yeah, there is a time where the simulations get old and a lot of the other relationships in the film feel under-nourished but this is a breathtaking opening to what will hopefully be a very successful series.