Decades ago Earth was attacked without warning by the Formics, an race of ant-like aliens. Millions of people were killed before the Formics were driven off. Since then the Formics have been regrouping and rebuilding. Earth in turn has prepared a retaliatory war fleet to ensure that the Formics never get another chance to annihilate humanity.
Part of the effort involves recruiting and training children to pilot the fleet’s drone fighters. Apparently only children have the reflexes and adaptability to deal with the Formics’ non-human battle tactics.
One of the children so recruited is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), but Earth’s commanders see in him more than just a potential pilot. They hope to build on his natural abilities to mold him into the ultimate battlefield commander, able to lead Earth’s badly outnumbered fleet to victory against the Formics.
Ender is just one member of a family of geniuses. His older brother Peter (Jimmy ‘Jax’ Pinchak) and his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) are equally brilliant but were rejected for the training program because they lacked the necessary temperament for command.
Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) is the head of the training program and he thinks Ender has what he needs. With the help of a skeptical pyschologist (Viola Davis) and a hero of the last Formic War (Ben Kingsley) he uses ethically questionable methods to shape Ender into the tool that he wants.
Harrison Ford does a great job portraying a character who is arguably a sympathetic war criminal. The movie also looks terrific, with great-looking seamless special effects. However the special effects may actually be a weakness, as I will discuss below.
The major controversy surrounding this movie is a highly-publicized boycott led by LGBT activists angered by Orson Scott Card’s public opposition to gay marriage. This seems rather ironic. This movie has nothing to say about any LGBT-related issues but Card has written a number of stories that included well-drawn sympathetically-portrayed gay characters. It may be that the vehemence of the boycotters reflects the anger of gay fans who felt betrayed when they learned of his real-life opinions.
Hollywood is full of rich and influential people who feel entitled to pontificate about subjects they know little or nothing about. If I were willing to boycott a movie because I disagreed with the political opinions of someone involved in the production I wouldn’t be able to watch any movies at all. A movie needs to be judged based on its own content and I don’t see anything here that would justify a boycott.
To take a novel of ideas and make a movie out of it is inherently difficult. Orson Scott Card was involved in the production and claims that this is about as good an adaptation as could possibly be made. Is it good enough?
To some extent this movie may suffer from the “Truffaut Effect.” The French director Francois Truffaut famously said that there is no such thing as an anti-war film because the medium glorifies everything it touches. Many people who see Ender’s Game without having read the book seem to see it as a science fiction adventure with great special effects, but overly talky and slow to get moving. In other words they are missing the real point.
On the other hand fans of the book may be disappointed by the compromises made to fit the story into a movie. A lot of material is left out, the story is compressed and the whole subplot involving Peter and Valentine is omitted, reducing them to walk-on roles.
Still this is a lot smarter than the average sci-fi blockbuster and I’m not sorry that I watched it.