Young Ender Wiggin is recruited by the International Military to lead the fight against the Formecs, a genocidal alien race which nearly annihilated the human race in a previous invasion.
Based upon the 1985 novel of the same name, Ender’s Game suffers from a problem common to many an adaptation. How exactly do you cram all the material from one book into such short a running time? Some films have done so successfully with the use of judicious editing and creative licence. Unfortunanlty Ender’s Game is no such success story, for all of its interesting ideas and unique action, it ends up an overly rushed patchwork, seriously lacking focus.
Ender’s Game can be divided into a number of sequences, punctuated by Ender’s various promotions. Each of these sequences has elements that never feel truly developed. Various sub-plots are set up and then abruptly end, or have no resolution at all. In the beginning we meet Ender’s over aggressive brother. We learn that his past actions are central to Ender’s doubts about himself, but it is never established what those actions were or why Ender associates with them so much. There are many more elements like this, and they only serve to make the film seemed rushed. What no doubt took place over months or years in the book feel like they took place in mere days in the film.
It’s a shame because there are a number of interesting ideas here. Some of the films best scenes involve the moral ambiguity of Colonel Graff’s (Harrison Ford) actions. These scenes often deal with some quiet dark and complex issues, especially for a film that is partially targeted at children. Unfortunately while these issues are discussed, they never really have any consequence on the story as a whole. The result is that these scenes often feel like they are simply flagged up, rather than truly examined.
The set-pieces in the film are unique enough to hold up some interest, although, once again, the lack of development means they never reach their potential. A zero gravity battle between teams is one of the films central sources of action. It is in these battles where we really get to see Ender’s character, and the traits that make him a good leader. The rules of the game are adequately detailed and there is a strong set up to the final battle between Ender and his rival. Much like everything in Ender’s Game however, the tension simply fizzles out. Ender manages to overcome his rival all too easily and all too quickly. It is disappointing that so much potential is wasted and seemingly swept over.
When it comes to the films final sequence (with Ender in control of his own fleet) we get a very different type of action. Ender remotely controls a huge fleet facing off against even larger alien fleets. The spectacle is certainly there, and visually these scenes are pretty spectacular. There is also something to be said for the concentration on tactics rather than pure action, setting these scenes apart from other such epic sci-fi battles. What these scenes are lacking however is a sense of consequence. We are told that this battle will win the war, but we see no evidence of that. We are told that there is a human cost to these battles, but we never see any evidence of this either. The result is that there is a serious lack of tension, and for all their visuals and scope, the battle scenes never really excite.
It is a shame that Ender’s Game never lives up to be more than an average action blockbuster. It shows an independent spirit that is lacking from the majority of the pack. But, it is unable to deliver on the promise of some of these ideas, ideas that were no doubt better explored in the book. Though Ender’s Game many never get a sequel, it is one of few that may have had interesting territory to explore, and no doubt would have had a good chance of surpassing its predecessor.