Review: Ender's Game - No, It's Not Monopoly

There’s certainly a fair amount of derivative content in Ender’s Game. Star Wars, The Hunger Games and a big scoop of Starship Troopers were thrown in to tell the story of one young boy, Ender Wiggin, as he is enrolled by Harrison Ford into the space military to fight giant bugs in space, with lasers. That said, it’s important to keep in mind it was a novel dating back to the 1980s (as some people actively point out, due to the author Orson Scott Card’s infamous anti-gay opinions), so while the visuals and action may look familiar, the plot and thematic elements are indeed original, and definitely have a larger impact.

It’s undeniable that Ender’s Game looks terrific. The special effects, along with the set design and cinematography, are top notch, effectively creating the bright vivid environments one may encounter whilst shooting lasers at things in space. There’s plenty of action to be had, from huge fleet battles to enclosed zero gravity shoot-em-ups, it’s a shame that these only really vary from average and ordinary to sometimes mediocre and underwhelming. It’s not til the end that we are fully impressed by a sprawling battle simulation, and that brings up something else altogether.
The soundtrack by Steve Jablonsky proves to be effective in heightening the very emotional moments of the movie, especially as the credits roll. It may give less of an impact when the same uplifting rift plays over all the ‘character building’ moments, which there are many, but overall it makes some easy listening.
The first half seems a little bit rushed. With a running time of just short of two hours, it feels pleasantly brisk, but for the sections where Ender is enrolled in ‘Battle School’, it plays out very formulaically and devoid of any interesting hooks to keep you involved. It’s only once we leave the enclosed and high-school-esque environment of the floating space school is it that we tread on some properly sturdy ground. 
The most impressive parts of the film are the themes. About halfway through, the movie turns suddenly quite thematically sinister, and by the end you’re left more than a bit perturbed and depressed at the, although not shocking plot-wise, very dark third act you actually have. Always renowned for its striking political significance, it was initially seen as difficult to translate the book into a blockbuster and (essentially) a kids movie. For the most part, this comes across effectively, after the film has finished the rather heavy-handed messages about leadership may vanish quite quickly (along with the complexity of the mind connection gobbledegook that served only as a distracting confusion) but the more poignant aspects like sacrifice and defense remain like a bitter aftertaste. Like Prisoners, the depression gained from watching only benefits the strength of the movie.
Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) gives a strong performance as Ender Wiggin, and is probably the best out of the child actors, with Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) presenting a fair but mostly wasted character serving as Ender’s “love interest”. She just doesn't do enough to be anything but filler, same going for Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) as Ender’s sister, giving such jarringly contradicting advice that I was sometimes confused about what she was actually doing. Some of the other child actors are mediocre at times, which was quite distracting. To add to this they serve up bland and explanatory dialogue more than once, leaving only a dastardly cruel performance from Moises Arias (The Kings of Summer, Hannah Montana: The Movie – I couldn't find anything else okay?) to save these sequences.
It’s the adult actors that pull it out of the bag. Harrison Ford has never been this grouchy and growly since … well since the last movie he did, but it’s still undeniably entertaining. Viola Davis (The Help) does a great job of being the only one in the whole movie concerned about the psychological repercussions about sending under 15 year olds into a huge war in space and told to kill as much as they can. But it’s Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3, Shutter Island) who gleefully and unashamedly chews the scenery, his face lauded with intricate tattoos and his voice in some odd mix between South Africa and New Zealand. Like the early Harry Potter films, regardless of the shaky child acting, we’ll always be able to count on people like Alan Rickman hamming it up for our pleasure.
Despite its shortcomings and expected acting flaws, Ender’s Game remains to be a visual treat and a surprisingly dark and melancholic blockbuster. You’ll be more concerned with the political and social issues it brings up than its momentarily glaring flaws. If all else fails, Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley growl and garble respectively at each other for a scene or two. That’s pretty funny.

I give Ender's Game 3.5 out of 5 stars
So what'd you think of Ender's Game? Do you think this could be the next major book-based franchise?