Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A kid-sized Starship Troopers with some interesting ideas, 12 Mar 2014
This review is from: Ender's Game [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Ender's Game is set in a post-alien-invasion society where parents submit their kids for military academy testing in the hope of finding one tactically gifted enough to defeat their enemy should it return.
Ender (Asa Butterfield) is just such a kid, and quickly identified by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) as a serious contender, despite the reservations of his colleague, behaviourist and shrink Anderson (Viola Davis). Despite an apparent violent streak, Ender is selected for the military training program and soon making friends and enemies on his way to graduation, with a renewed alien threat ever looming...
For a movie about an alien threat, we never get to find out much about the enemy. Perhaps that's deliberate and we're being shown just what Ender would be shown, but it feels badly thought out, as the aliens remain a vague and distant enemy, never clearly defined - and as a result never really threatening - despite everyone trumpeting statistics about how many people died in the last invasion. The main thrust of the movie is essentially a sci-fi coming of age school movie, with all the usual tropes of the smart kid being relentlessly disliked or bullied and inevitably winning people over with his smarts or plot connivance. Unfortunately it never feels genuine. Kids flock to Ender's side to be his friend despite their resentment and dislike of him, once his tactical brilliance becomes evident. This feels deeply unrealistic and misleading about human behaviour to any kids viewing, as does the idea that a dim and hyper-aggressive bully can be held at bay with a reasoned tactical discussion. It also feels like a cheat that the academic and slightly introverted Ender always wins at physical fights (overwhelmingly). Here the movie is met with a serious problem: it's trying to suggest that brains are the key to victory, while having its cake and eating it too by granting the hero the ability to always win at a fist-fight. It's also cast an actor who's so skinny and vulnerable that the fight scenes simply don't ever convince. Butterfield is decent, but his wide-eyed expressiveness can be too much in scenes that call for subtlety. He's good against the rest of the cast however who are all of a similar standard. Ford is good, Kingsley is also very good, but Davis brings more heart and soul to the film.
In the end, this is a strange mix - 75 percent 'space camp/college movie' which often feels quite childish, blended with a sci-fi plot that should be deadly serious (and turns so briefly at one point, in a brave twist), filled with derivative clichés. Everything from Starship Troopers to Independence Day is openly plundered from, and the result is a confused and half-hearted mess that often has moments of impressive but over-acted impact. The movie wins points by introducing ethical dilemmas where few would dare, but much of it feels like you've seen it before.
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