ENDER’S GAME (4 out of 10) – Starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis; rated PG-13 (some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material); in general release; running time: 114 minutes.
Well, it turns out there’s some good news about the “Ender’s Game” movie: You don’t have to hate on it just because it’s based on an inexplicably popular novel by a poor excuse for a human being (bigoted and homophobic author Orson Scott Card).
No, now you can hate on it simply because it’s a lousy excuse for a science-fiction movie. Among this would-be blockbuster’s bigger problems is it’s so unoriginal and unexciting. This alleged sci-fi/action-thriller pretty rips off other, earlier, better sci-fi movies and works without any acknowledgement of those that came before it.
(Among the more obvious reference points are not only the Vietnam War thriller “Full Metal Jacket,” but both the novel and movie versions of “Starship Troopers,” both the novel and movie versions of “War of the Worlds,” the award-winning novel “The Forever War” and even the most guilty of science-fiction thriller movie hits, 1996’s idiotic, entertaining-to-a-point “Independence Day.”)
Even if you’re not familiar with any of those – and if you aren't, you apparently need to do a better job of educating yourself on the whole science-fiction genre – “Ender’s Game” is an angsty, talky and dramatically inert piece that defies the best efforts of its game cast and a filmmaker (Gavin Hood, of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” infamy) seeking some redemption with the geek crowd.
Asa Butterfield, who impressed in early roles in “The Boy with the Striped Pajamas” (2008) and “Hugo” (2011), stars as the title character, Ender Wiggin. He’s a bright but bullied young student in training for the International Military program.
Hard-nosed Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) believes that Ender might be the Earth’s Last Best Hope to defeat the Formics, an insect-like alien race that attacked the world decades earlier and was barely repelled. (Graff and his fellow military leaders believe that the Formics are preparing another assault and that they plan to colonize the Earth for themselves.).
However, Ender has a hard time fitting in with his fellow Battle School recruits (derisively known as “launchies” by the older students, as well as their boot-camp instructors). He also butts heads with said instructors, including one (Viola Davis, in a fairly thankless supporting role) who believes he’s too unbalanced to be a real Leader among Men.
These instructional sequences and “dramatic” confrontations seem to go on forever, taking up practically the entire movie. So it’s no wonder that Hood rushes the ending, which – spoiler alert! – appears to lead directly into a planned-for sequel. (Hey, let’s see how this first movie does financially before you go foisting another one of these on us, Summit Entertainment!)
Another big problem with the movie: It’s hard to cast teens and pre-teen performers when they’re still in the process of becoming adults. Butterfield appears to grow a couple of inches in some scenes, gain some light facial hair and get a deeper voice. Then, he reverts to a more shrimpy, shrill stature. (Clearly, scenes were shot of a sequence out of necessity, but they only make this more obvious.)
Continuity problems aside, Butterfield has a hard time portraying a character who, quite frankly, isn’t particularly sympathetic. As written by Hood, Ender is kind of a creep, someone who turns psychotic and nearly murderous when bullied. Even attempts to “humanize” him, through an on-screen friendship with a character played by Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) make him seem more inhuman and unrelatable.
Not that the older cast members are any help. Ben Kingsley practically phones in his role as an earlier war hero, while Ford is all gruffness and nothing else. (Is it a coincidence that his character’s last name is “Graff?”)
And then there are the sometimes chintzy-looking “special” effects. An opening scene that depicts an earlier space battle with the Formic aliens appears to have been taken directly from the aforementioned “ID4,” without modern-day, digital sprucing-up.
Also, a couple of games of “Space Laser Tag,” while staged nicely, look pretty quaint and unconvincing when compared to the mind-blowing, zero-gravity sequences from “Gravity” (a much-smarter, much-more-thrilling film that’s more deserving of your hard-earned dollars).
Jerk-bot, aka Jeff Michael Vice, can also be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast, and can be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off.
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