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Based on the bestselling classic sci-fi teen novel by Orson Scott Card. Young Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a brilliant master strategist, is recruited by the International Military alongside other gifted children to train in a Battle School so they can lead the fight against the Formics, an insectoid alien race who had previously tried to invade Earth and had inflicted heavy losses on humankind.
Ender’s Game review in a nutshell
A potentially epic sci-fi movie that’s let down by its young cast.
Would I recommend you watch it?
Otherwise, continue reading for a full review with some spoilers.
Full review of Ender’s Game (with some spoilers)
Ender’s Game was… meh.
It wasn’t fantastic, it wasn’t horrible — I didn’t care very much for it.
Funny thing is, I thought I would like it, at the very least. It had underdogs, space battles, a resonant score that I occasionally liked, the fate of humanity in their hands — all that jazz that I usually like in large, expensive productions like these. Visual effects were fine too.
But the child actors, who were the main focus, didn’t compel me to feel anything for them. Especially Asa Butterfield, who plays main character Ender Wiggin, whose robotic performance and poker face didn’t endear him to me at all. From an emotionally detached standpoint, I can praise the way he emotes with only his eyes — tears welling up in those orbs that speak of a world of hidden pain, yadda yadda. (Surely that’s one of the hallmarks of a good actor?)
But he also speaks with very little inflection of tone, and behaves like an angry, teenage social outcast. So maybe that’s the fault of his commander, Colonel Graff (played by Harrison Ford), who deliberately wants to isolate him because he thinks it’ll toughen him up. (Or something.) But the very reason that made him the perfect candidate to be trained as a killer commander (commanding killer?), his sociopathic tendencies (since according to some unspoken rule in fiction, exceptionally brilliant people must be sociopaths), also made me unable to sympathise with him. Plus, I dislike petulant teenagers with every fibre of my being. I felt pity only at the end, when he realised he was used, and his humanity started showing.
I didn’t care very much for Hailee Steinfield or the other kids in Battle School either, whom I felt were all there for filler, stereotypical roles. (The school needs to have more than one student, after all.) They could all have died and I wouldn’t have blinked. And there was this heavyset, black officer who over-enunciated all his words. It felt like he was showing off how he could pronounce every letter in each word of his sentences.
The only character I did like was Harrison Ford’s, whose years of experience playing grumpy old men has honed his “gruff old man” down to a pat. Viola Davis’ empathetic therapist officer (or whoever she was playing), and Abigail Breslin, who plays Ender’s sister Valentine, felt human enough to be likeable too.
And then there were all the battle strategies that I didn’t understand (I swear all the child actors MUMBLED through the movie), only that they were VERY IMPORTANT and helped them to win a war against giant alien insects — who may or may not be threats in the first place; not that I care, cause the insects gave me the creeps — and Ender is so smart for thinking them up, yay!
Maybe if I had read the book, which is said to be a beloved classic, I would have liked it better. But the movie killed off whatever interest I might have had with all the uninteresting teenage actors.
Seems that many others didn’t like it too, for various reasons that include the author being kind of a dick. The movie bombed at the box office, earning US$125 million worldwide on a US$110 million budget.
Where to watch Ender’s Game
Streaming services: Ender’s Game is on Netflix Singapore, but not Netflix US, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu. It’s also available to stream for free on IMDB TV and on Tubi TV if you’re in the U.S. (Or if you’re using a VPN and set your country to the US. I’m using NordVPN, which costs US$125.64 for 3 years. It’s even cheaper if you have a Shopback or Rakuten account (formerly known as Ebates) and activate your cashback before your purchase.)