Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
October 31, 2013
** (out of four)
Let me get this straight: An adult soldier single-handedly wards off an enemy alien attack, and 50 years later Earth long has believed the solution to planetary security rests with teenagers? Even though the aliens have not attacked again, and no youngsters have established themselves as the next great leader?
Good thing this is the first time a defense strategy hasn’t made sense.
In the visually striking, mentally confounding big-screen adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s popular novel “Ender’s Game,” there’s no analysis of this policy’s questionable logic. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) does tell Major Anderson (Viola Davis) they can discuss the morality of child commanders when the war’s over. Graff is sure that Ender (Asa Butterfield of “Hugo”) will be the one to save humanity from extinction, which he indicates by literally saying, “He’s the one” and “He’s perfect.” Apparently Ender—whose real name is Andrew Wiggin, eerily similar to another chosen one, consensus 2014 No. 1 NBA draft pick Andrew Wiggins—has the best tactical mind of the world’s smartest kids, who supposedly process complex data better than their elders.
Pros for the adolescents recruited and brought to intergalactic boot camp: Multiple rounds of flying laser tag and, um, advanced orbital mechanics classes. Cons: Jerky, unimpressive teens in power (Moises Arias, unconvincing again) and rules about genders keeping their distance after-hours. Obviously, writer-director Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) doesn’t approach the military’s shameful track record of sexual assault when many male fighters co-exist with a few females (here the main young woman is played by Hailee Steinfeld of “True Grit” and the recent, immediately forgotten “Romeo and Juliet”).
Rather, “Ender’s Game” plays like a “Starship Troopers” spinoff of “The Hunger Games” (or a young adult interpretation of Rage Against the Machine’s “Know Your Enemy”), in which the criticism of wartime protocol makes less sense as it goes. (Telepathic powers what?) Fortunately the film promotes the development of intelligence and looks very good. The young heroes’ weightless excursions generate fun where the leaden script doesn’t, and the absence of 3-D means we don’t have to see a kid’s vomit float off the screen like Sandra Bullock’s tears in “Gravity.”
Yet the anti-climactic “Ender’s Game” ultimately tries and fails to remind young viewers there’s a difference between video games and real war. It’s nothing a total rewrite couldn’t fix.
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