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Based on a popular book authored by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game feels like a combination of The Hunger Games (where adults use children to play out their war games) and the classic novel Lord of the Flies (a story that leaves youths to work out their own society and pecking order). But Card’s plot is jettisoned into space.
As is often the case in sci-fi tales, a futuristic Earth has been attacked by aliens. Fortunately mankind was able to ward off the invaders, but not without huge costs and the growing concern they will return. Preparing for the next confrontation military leaders are looking for innovative combat ideas to fight the ant-like enemy’s swarming techniques. They believe their only chance of acquiring such prowess will be to tap the talent of the very youngest members of society. Embracing the philosophy that playing video games improves strategic abilities, adults equip every adolescent with a tablet device where he or she engages in war games in a virtual world.
One of the most promising players is a smaller boy named Ender (Asa Batterfield). His exceptional abilities catch the attention of both a classmate named Stilson (Caleb J. Thaggard) and a high-ranking military official, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford). For the competitive Stilson, losing to Ender’s creative strategies during their battles is more than the bully is willing to endure. But when he attacks Ender after the game, the diminutive boy uses similar cunning to get the much larger Stilson on the floor. Then he continues to kick and beat him, even though Stilson is already defeated. It is this latter action that scores big points with the Colonel. Ender is disturbingly determined not only to subdue his enemy but also to try and eliminate him. (Unlike Graff, some viewers may feel Ender’s zealous rage over his adversary extends too far.)
As a result of the altercation Ender is chosen to join an elite group of youth in space who are preparing for the next extraterrestrial strike. These warriors-in-training repeatedly practice using simulated conflicts. Quickly moving up the command ranks, Ender maintains a firm hand while surprisingly, given his past conduct, managing to show compassion for those he works with.
Audiences familiar with the novel may or may not be pleased to discover this big screen version sanitizes much of the violence. The screenplay takes measures to ensure we know Stilson, and other characters that meet Ender’s wrath, will recover from the injuries he inflicts. The book on the other hand describes their deaths in some detail. This toned-down approach, along with infrequent language and sexual content may make this film more accessible for young audiences than the original. Yet true to the author’s vision, both versions present Ender and his crew with some heart wrenching consequences.
Ender’s Game offers messages about teamwork, as well as developing and recognizing the talents of individuals. These themes combined with compelling visuals, an engaging story and strong performances make the movie a rare find that may be suitable for tweens and teens. Still, parents will want to be ready to discuss appropriate ways of dealing with bullying and the realities of war. There is also the possibility a few young recruits might think they have found the perfect justification for spending hours playing video games. After all, you never know when we’ll need to be ready to fend off an alien attack.
Ender’s Game is rated PG-13: for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley
Studio: 2013 Summit Entertainment
Website: Official site for Ender’s Game.