If you play enough video games, you can save the world.
By JON NICCUM
Special to The Star
Thats one of several themes that spring from Enders Game, a respectable adaptation of the first book in the acclaimed series by Orson Scott Card. The movie incorporates intriguing morality debates into a space adventure about young recruits fighting intergalactic bugs. But its very serious. Almost joyless. Its like Starship Troopers minus the campy humor and wanton nudity.
Asa Butterfield (Hugo) stars as Andrew Ender Wiggin. (Note: Hes no relation to KU basketball forward Andrew Wiggins other than he comes in with a lot of hype.) A skinny geek with piercing eyes bordered by a constellation of freckles, Ender is selected by the International Fleet to help prevent another invasion by the alien Formics. Tens of millions of people died during an attack a half century ago, and since then Earth has become a militarized co-op.
This is a boot camp for kids who have to fight a real enemy, explains Col. Graff (a stiff Harrison Ford).
Like other 12-year-olds, Ender is a master at violent video games. Since thats similar to the way real soldiers do battle in this futuristic world, youngsters represent the best strategists. But unlike others his age, Ender can outwit his classmates both intellectually and psychologically. Enders Game follows his progression up the ranks until hes primed for real combat.
Writer/director Gavin Hood displays far more command of the material than he did in the reviled X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (At 17, Hood was drafted into the South African army, likely not a rosy experience.)
Hood centers most of the action in a space station Battle Room. A marvel of glossy production design, this stadium-sized translucent sphere provides a zero-gravity environment for teams to engage in capture-the-flag-type missions and mind games under the controlling gaze of Col. Graff.
If it plays a bit like Quidditch with teams Griffin vs. Salamanders instead of Gryffindor vs. Slytherin, well, it is. Though the book predated Harry Potter by more than a decade, Enders Game still follows that franchises exceptional child in an isolated school template.
The adults are forever telling the hero how great he is. He finds two loyal companions, a boy and a girl (Aramis Knight and Hailee Steinfeld). Anyone not a friend is a total enemy whose only purpose in life is to harass the hero. (Easily the worst overacting in the movie involves these unconvincing bullying bits, especially by Moises Arias of The Kings of Summer as a squad leader with lethal short-guy syndrome.) Then theres the scary adult (Ben Kingsley with a Maori face tattoo) who is part mentor and part foe.
Its all rather formulaic and not particularly interesting until the third act. For those who havent read the novels and dont know where this is all leading, Enders Game delivers on its promise of a big finale. It ambitiously embraces a gray area where the heros mantra of know your enemy takes on added significance.
Butterfield is superb during these high-stress moments, imparting both the confidence of a budding genius and the stress of someone in way over his head.
With Col. Graffs fascist rhetoric about the purpose of this war is to prevent all future wars echoing in his mind, young Ender truly goes where no man has gone before.
JUST THE BEGINNING?
Will the Enders Game box office warrant sequels, beginning with adapting Orson Scott Cards Speaker for the Dead? Young star Asa Butterfield has learned to be cagey. He is not signed up to do sequels, not yet.
But hes game, should the need arise.
As of now, acting is all I ever want to do, he says. I might have a change of heart. But meeting the people I have been able to meet, having the experiences Ive been lucky enough to have, flying in the air 40 foot above the ground with Cirque du Soleil trainers for this movie, all the other wonderful experiences Ive had on sets, this does look like the life for me.
| Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune