Ender's Game searches for a soul
Starrring Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford. Rated PG.
In many ways, Ender’s Game is the ultimate fantasy for power-hungry teenage geeks. Based on the award-winning sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card, it tells the story of Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a 14-year-old boy who, thanks to his inherent genius for military tactics, is chosen to save Earth from a race of bug-like invaders.
Alas, director Gavin Hood puts the giant can of Raid on hold. In this futuristic tale, wars are fought like video games, complete with a giant screen that features hoards of invading insects getting zapped by an army of awestruck adolescents. Like the mixed bag of lavish special effects, our young hero appears specifically designed to appeal to a target audience of ravenous gamers.
Presumably, Ender’s quick reflexes are a big part of what propels him to high command so rapidly. It’s the only way to explain why a troubled adolescent is ultimately compelled to make the kind of life and death choices that would normally be left to his more experienced elders.
Hood, who also co-wrote the script with Card, spends a lot of time examining what makes for a great leader. During Ender’s training, he’s subjected to a battery of tests designed to measure whether he has the ideal balance of compassion and killer instinct. Considering that Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley play the boy’s mentors, the movie’s premise may baffle older members of the audience. After all, if you’ve got Han Solo and Gandhi on your side, what do you need with a skinny little kid?
I don’t mean to sound overly flippant here. Hood works hard to inject a viable moral component into the proceedings. But, despite asking some valid questions about the ethical cost of war, too many moments struck me as grimly silly.
Like the rest of the young ensemble, Butterfield approaches his role with genuine conviction. Unfortunately, Butterfield gets precious little help from the more seasoned members of the cast. Ford, in particular, comes across as robotic and disinterested. Although Ender’s Game seems to be desperately searching for a soul, it inevitably left me feeling oddly disengaged.