Rated: PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: November 1, 2013 Released by: Summit Entertainment
Wide-eyed, thin and ashen Asa Butterfield and Sir Ben Kingsley are back together not so long after Hugo which had an elegance and magic this new teen sci-fi adventure (geared towards a fan base that relates well towards Harry Potter and video games) lacks in blending storytelling and noteworthy visual effects and futuristic production design. One where iPads have more of a bulky prominence.
Gavin Hood's Ender's Game works from an acclaimed tome by Orson Scott Card where Earth some fifty years down the road has turned to its children when a war seems imminent. Like Starship Troopers vicious insects called the Formics have wreaked havoc on the planet and now Butterfield's 12-year-old Ender Wiggins could be the trainee destined to lead (as the successor to legendary hero Mazer Rackham). According to commander Col. Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford of 42) as Ender displays much strategic smarts as well as compassion especially from his approaching to bullying.
Ender ponders how the Formics really should be dealt with after he goes through a simulation in zero gravity which represents an onslaught of Formics. It's like stages in a video game that is team-oriented in searching for a laser which makes it especially watchable for the desired demographic. Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) is sensitive to Ender's course, which becomes arguably more gripping and foreboding. Peers like Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as Petra and a main opponent, Bonzo, also evinced nicely by Moises Arias ("The Kings of Summer") help make the cooperation.
Though Kingsley is given short-shrift, Viola Davis provides viable concern as Col. Graff's psychology colleague Maj. Anderson. A rejuvenated Ford also becomes a strong grizzled presence. And, Butterfield (who made a solid debut in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) is an unlikely, yet interesting figure in his small frame to grab onto a scenario perhaps reminiscent of The Last Starfighter.
If the performances and premise of Ender's Game have an engaging, enlivening quality going for it with intimations on 'War on Terror' and drone strikes, then its growing conflict becomes more impotent and indecisive. Perhaps because an oversimplified narrative never really makes its intellect into vulnerability and sacrifice on the battlefield resonate within its milieu (maybe similar to recent big-budgeters like Battleship and Pacific Rim). If it all gets a little wan and risible at the conclusion in an insinuation of a new franchise many still will be pumped up and attentive to the possibilities of total annihilation.