Based on a YA bestseller, this teen-focused sci-fi aims to marry The Hunger Games’ adrenaline rush with brain-teasing philosophical inquiry.
With its shouty boot-camp training sequences and hardened military heroes (Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley with a Maori face tattoo) imparting grim wisdom on how to fight a bug-like alien race looking set to launch another invasion, it also resembles Starship Troopers. Minus, of course, Paul Verhoeven’s preoccupation with sex, nudity and in-yer-face violence.
The other difference is that the coalition of young recruits have been selected for their gaming skills. Here, the war against the Formics (nicknamed ‘buggers’ in Orson Scott Card’s source novel, a term wisely excised here given the author’s outspoken opposition to gay rights…) is conducted in colossal fleets where strategic nous is key.
Talk about a winning geekgasm formula: nerds and misfits are the only ones who can save the world from oblivion.
Top of the cadet heap is Ender Wiggin (Hugo’s Asa Butterfield). “He’s ‘The One’,” Ford’s gruff Colonel Graff tells Viola Davis’ hesitant shrink. The film’s psychological layers firm up as Ender is tested with mind games to coax out his leadership qualities. Along the way, he forms alliances and antagonisms with his fellow “launchies”.
In these early scenes, Ender’s Game hums along on its own gravitational pull, driven by funky combat in the zero-gravity room and Butterfield’s terrific performance as the wunderkind who’s a pawn in a bigger game.
Adapted and directed by X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s Gavin Hood, Ender’s Game brings its own mind tricks into play. What had been buzzing along as a pint-sized Taps becomes far harsher, hurling out intriguing questions about leadership, compassion and the psychic toll of winning at all costs. It’s this injection of complexity that, whatever the icky personal politics of its creator, makes you hope it isn’t game over for Ender after this first round.
Like its hero, Ender’s Game relies on brains more than brute force. An absorbing portrait of Lord Of The Flies-style morality housed in imaginative sci-fi casing.