Ender's Game (2013): The International Military seek out a leader who can save the human race from an alien attack. Ender Wiggin, a brilliant young mind, is recruited and trained to lead his fellow soldiers into a battle that will determine the future of Earth.
So that's the IMDB synopsis. It is one of the longest synopsis I have ever seen for a movie. And see this is the movie's main problem. It is too big for it's own good. This is a classic example of a sci-fi movie that bit off more than it could chew. There's just too many unpolished ideas that don't go anywhere and too many jumps in the convoluted story to really get from point A to point B in a credible fashion. Here's a perfect example: the movie does not even remotely give you the sense of Ender moving up through the ranks. One minute he's a new recruit at battle school then the next he's on the best team within the battle school war games groups then he's commanding his own unit then he's at commanders school being told that he's going to command the entire human fleet! Just like that. Obviously this also creates an awkwardly paced movie with no sense of time whatsoever. A countdown clock is showed at one point but you see it exactly once. But you're supposed to just believe that he's smarter than everyone else he's competing against. Which are the best and brightest that our planet has to offer. I can't forgive this. There could be an entire movie just on the section where he's commanding his own unit, an island of misfit toys, and the turnaround they have. Quick PS by the way I don't feel these are spoilers, because after all the whole premise of the movie is that this is Ender's game against the alien force. Get the name? And I can't even remotely begin to voice and describe my complaints without letting unimportant parts of the story slip. And believe me...the movie views them as unimportant. There's about 15 minutes of movie (if that) with him commanding his own unit.
Let's talk about themes. I've noticed Facebook has been talking a lot about and complementing the fact that the movie nails the main genocide theme that it has throughout the movie. Which is quite true. There was general heartfelt moments (probably the best points of the film) when Ender is questioning the morality of his actions. The problem is that this is not the only theme Orson Scott Card, writer of the novel (of the same name) that this movie is based on, which I have actually read, is trying to convey. Now it is a movie adaption, so I'm definitely expecting many things to be lost here, but that's not the problem. The problem is that they are not lost. There are about seventeen additional themes here that get touched at one point or another: fighting back against bullies, living away from home and feeling homesick, the bond between brothers and sisters, violence in video games, and just the general morality of having kids run the war that they are in, to name a few. Oh that's another thing I should mention....I saw the first possible showing that my theater had of this movie, and it was relatively full. There were a rather significant amount of people that just could not take the fact that the children were talking like adults seriously. And it wasn't just one group or anything. No it was probably about half the room. There's only about one joke in this movie (it is a very dark and serious movie) and yet the room was laughing quite a bit at the characters. That just tells me that this theme of the morality behind using kids to fight our wars was just completely lost on the audience, simply because they just didn't have the time to touch on it in the 114 minute film.
But it's not all bad. The movie is great from a visual standpoint. The fighting sequences are the calling card of the movie, just as they were for the book. While some of the war games games were a little hard to follow and rather chaotic, the later fights are pretty spectacular and gave me chills. This movie is a who's-who for acting talent, and everyone puts in great performances. Even Harrison Ford! The role he was playing actually required some acting, which of course Ford provided. As opposed to the cash-ins that some of his more recent films have been. (I'm looking at you Indiana Jones 4!) However there was almost no character development in anyone. Actually no....there was no character development at all! Ben Kingsley's character is the perfect example. In the book, he's my favorite character, but here he gets next to no screen time. To the point that you can forget that he's even in the movie were it not for a few dramatic stares from him to Ender at various points. However Asa Butterfield (most known for playing Hugo in Martin Scorsese's Hugo) as Ender puts in a fantastic performance, and Abigail Breslin (Zombieland, Little Miss Sunshine) and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) also put in spectacular performances. I really look forward to seeing what more these three great child actors have to offer in future movies. But still, this movie is just too murky. Fans of the book will be able to follow, but I fear that those who have no idea what the book is about may find themselves getting lost and asking those with them who have read the book what's going on. Which did happen with me. I went with a friend who had never read the book, and while she did enjoy herself being a fan of sci-fi, she did ask me a few times what was going on because a technical aspect of the film was confusing. And obviously outside of the sci-fi fan base I would definitely say stay away. You will not be able to appreciate what this movie is trying to do if you don't appreciate sci-fi.
The Critique: a sci-fi movie that bit off more than it could chew (didn't I say that earlier?)
The Recommendation: a must see for those who like the book and a solid recommendation for those who like sci-fi. For everyone else though, avoid like the plague.
The Verdict: 5.5/10 slightly above average
Oscar Talk: probably a nomination for Best Visual Effects but I say Gravity beats it out still. Like it will everything else (at least in this specific field)
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