Note: my love of the book predates any knowledge of OSC’s deplorable politics and views on gays. Not discussing that here.
I have a long history with the book Ender’s Game. My brother gave it to me to read after he read it and loved it, I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. It blew my mind, and it, along with my family’s love of Star Trek, kicked off my life-long love of science fiction. So yeah, my brother and I have been waiting for a decent big-screen adaptation for 25 years. Is this it? Let’s take a look.
The first thing you have to remember is, no book or TV show or whatever survives it’s trip to the Hollywood blockbuster zone unscathed. There are several aspects of the book that would make a movie unfilmable – especially the fact that the main character would have to age from 6 to 12. The timeline is changed, so kid actors that can actually act can be used. Sub-plots are minimized or left out. It’s Ender’s story, so the Locke/Demosthenes stuff is left out. It wouldn’t be very exciting, to be honest, though it leaves Peter as a common bully and not a flawed genius, like his brother and sister.
Visually, the thing that has to work is Battle School. I love what they did with it here, having the Battle room glassed in looks fantastic, and the suits are sweet. It’s telling that the main complaint many people have with the movie is that it moved too quickly. But it’s already 2 hours, and more time would’ve been a lot to ask of a YA movie.
I was impressed when the casting announcements were made, and for the most part, it’s great. Harrison Ford as Graff is great, especially the scenes where he’s bouncing off Viola Davis’s Major Anderson. Asa Butterfield does Ender right, somehow making you believe in this kid and root for him, despite his obvious capability for violence and war. Abigail Breslin’s Valentine doesn’t get much to do, again, her main plot wasn’t in the movie. Hailee Steinfeld as Petra did a solid job, I loved the scene where she’s teaching him to shoot. Gavin Hood et al resisted the love interest angle with just a few lingering looks that were suitably understated. The rest of the kids were fine, with a mix of ex-Disney channel alums and other young stars. Moises Arias had it tough as Bonzo, though. He’s pretty short, and I remember the book having that as a fairly even matchup between he and Ender. There wasn’t enough development for Bonzo to give him any hints of a Napoleon complex, or to establish him as some hand to hand master, so the fight in the shower just seemed like a mis-match.
Other problems? Other than rushing a lot of things, we don’t get much of Command school. I know montages get made fun of, but one or two would’ve served this movie. They mis-use “The enemy’s gate is down” at the end, but the aftermath of that battle works pretty well, so I’ve forgiven them. It’s also odd to think that the cocoon was sitting walking distance from them this whole time, exacerbated by the fact of a LIVE FORMIC QUEEN just hanging out in there. The queen is able to speak into Ender’s mind in the books, even when in the cocoon, so while the live queen makes sense for non-fans, it’s tough to believe here.
On the whole, I really enjoyed the movie. I kind of wish they could’ve made two movies, or a mini-series with this budget though, so everything could be juuuust right, but after 25 years, it wasn’t happening. It’s better than I hoped. Fans of the book probably already saw it, non-fans, it’s worth a matinee showing for you.