Ender's Game exceeds expectations set by book

By Garrett Strotherimgres-1

Staff Writer

From the beginning Colonel Graff makes one thing very clear:

These are not children; these are soldiers.

In Ender’s Game, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card, it is fifty years after a catastrophic alien attack on Earth. The human race lives in constant fear that it will happen again, and that this time they will not be able to save themselves. The only reason they made it the first time was the sacrifice of the greatest military leader the world has ever known: Mazer Rackham.

From birth, children are monitored for traits that would make them good military leaders. Colonel Graff, played by the refreshingly non-curmudgeon Harrison Ford, believes he has found this next Mazer Rackham in Ender Wiggen, a young boy whose two older siblings almost made the cut before him.

Now Ender is off to Battle School, and training alongside the other potential saviors of the human race. Graff insists on his isolation, to make him a stronger person, not the weaker child he comes to Battle School as.

To the audience, Ender is anything but weak: standing up to bullies and thinking outside the box in ways his fellow cadets cannot. But Graff sees both of Ender’s siblings in the promising cadet, whose brother did not make Battle School for being too violent and whose sister was too compassionate.

Asa Butterfield portrays Ender’s inner battle for Spock-esque balance between violence and love perfectly. When he first appears, Ender easily beats one of his more belligerent classmates at a strategy spaceship video game. When the bully demands a rematch, Ender replies with a cool “maybe tomorrow”. Butterfield plays the role so artfully that you can see the desire in his eyes to win trumped by his desire not to make more enemies than he already has.

There are some moments like that one where Ender is a charismatically cold and calculating genius, reminiscent of Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of famous detective Sherlock Holmes on the BBC show Sherlock. At other times Ender’s shields will break down and show the world that he is in fact still a child. Butterfield’s impressively nuanced performance gives the character of Ender the depth he needs to breathe life into the film.

However, Butterfield is not the only performance in the film that stands out: Hailee Steinfeld, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the Coen brothers’ True Grit, plays Petra Arkanian, one of Ender’s few friends at the academy. Her chemistry with Butterfield is one of the sweet unexpected surprises that the film offers. The two train together and teach each other, and forge a friendship that is sold by the two young actors’ excellent performances.

Another standout is Viola Davis, Academy Award nominated for her role of a caring maid in 2011’s The Help. She once again stars as a maternal figure (this time to space cadets, not little southern girls) and is the right hand of Ford’s Colonel Graff. She is one of the few to question the humanity of putting children into boot camp, and seems to genuinely care about Ender and his fellow cadets as she stands up to her superiors to fight for their well-being throughout the movie.

Her character’s concern with the morality of bringing children into the war is only one of the social issues the film addresses. The first shot of the film is a quote attributed to A. E. Wiggen: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” The quote brings up what it really means to defeat an enemy, and the emotional punch of realizing that there is some of even our biggest adversaries in ourselves.

These moral questions are what make Ender’s Game stand out from other big-budget sci-fi films; they make the audience think. The movie challenges the audience to reevaluate the gray moral areas that so often come with times of war, and times of peace for that matter.

The movie balances the taxing questions it raises with some tremendously entertaining action sequences. While not the traditional battles audiences are used to, the cadets have mock-battles in a giant Battle Room in the middle of their space station school. The zero-gravity effects are gorgeous, opening all kinds of new opportunities for the filmmakers to take.

These become even more imaginatively used as Ender becomes a more skilled fighter and the battles are filled with more obstacles. Ender is forced once again to think outside of the box. There are a few battles in the film where the enemy clearly has the upper hand and Ender must rely on his brains to succeed. He becomes an Odysseus, planning and plotting to conquer the walls of Troy. Except in space. With lasers.

Ender’s Game has the most compelling sci-fi action since the recent Star Trek Into Darkness, a quite impressive and entertaining feat by itself. This is then bolstered by phenomenal acting from its leads and moral questions that most modern films almost never dare to tackle. All of these factors combine to create a well-rounded adventure that will leave you thinking for the next few days, or maybe even the next few weeks.