Film: "Ender's Game"; Cast: Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, Nonso Anozie and Moises Arias; Director: Gavin Hood; Rating: ** - lacks wow factor.
"Ender's Game" is a hero's journey in the form of a sci-fi fantasy film. Adapted from Orson Scott Card's 1985 book of the same name, the film transports you into a simulated video-gaming arena.
The film begins with a frame that quotes to the effect, "When I understand my enemy well enough, I start to love him." And the denouement substantiates this.
What follows the first frame is a "Star Wars" like scenario with a cramped up voiceover informing the audience that, in the not too distant future, an alien race, known as the Formics, will attempt to colonize earth. Their attempt is foiled by a heroic pilot, Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) who sacrifices himself in the process.
Ever since, the earth's leaders have been gearing up to repel any further attacks.
Fifty years later, with no intervening attack, the leaders put in place a scheme, whereby gifted children are monitored, selected and trained to take on any returning alien forces.
One such child is Andrew "Ender" Wiggin (Asa Butterfield). He is selected for his intelligence and killer instincts to solve problems, just the sort of quality military leader Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) is looking for.
"Ender's Game" has lots of psychological intonations and messages that are free-flowing in the form of dialogues. The most pronounced one comes at the very end when Ender tries to analyze if he is actually a hero or a killer.
Graff announces, "We won, is all that matters," to which Ender retorts, "The way we win matters."
This does put an end to the debate, but not the film.
Asa Butterfield, earlier seen in "Hugo", is the soul of the film. As Andrew Ender he is endearing and subtle. He earnestly portrays the conflicted child-genius with empathy, who longs to be with his sister Valentine, played by Abigail Breslin.
Abigail has a considerably tiny role and seems wasted in the film so does Hailee Steinfeld as Petra Arkanian, Ender's Battle School Companion.
The other kids at the Battle School are mostly stereotypical. They too have very little to do to really shine, but they perform much better than expected.
Ford is engaging. But with all the youngsters around, he seems tired, weary and jaded by comparison. Viola Davis counter balances Ford with her humane approach. Ben Kingsley with a tattooed visage hams awfully.
The production quality is good.
Visually, the frames are attractive, the cosmic fireworks along with the space station with a zero gravity combat practice room for kids seems to be often seen in some previously released film.
The background score by Steve Jablonsky is effective, especially the drone buzz at the end when Ender goes to visit the Formic. It has a remarkable effect, on screen.
Compared to the novel, Writer Director Gavin Hood's narration starts off on a tad tedious note, making it difficult to figure out the plot during the first act. The story settles in the second half and rushes forth with lots of action, emotional turmoil and thrill. The ending has a good, but not entirely satisfying twist to it. The film plateaus at the climax and somehow lacks the "wow" factor.