wogma rating: Add to 'must watch' list (?)
Asa Butterfield, known to the world so far only as the adorable Hugo from the recent Scorsese masterpiece, anchors a film that also has names like Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley in the cast. A surprisingly engaging sci-fi flick, Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game isn’t exactly blockbuster VFX extravaganza material, but makes for an intriguing adolescent-coming-of-age story set in the distant future.Read more
When I first watched the trailer of Ender’s Game, it exhausted me even though it was only a couple of minutes long. The space-sci-fi setting – so overdone in recent times – seemed cumbersome; the VFX looked all-too-familiar; Harrison Ford, a long-time favourite of mine, seemed jaded; and, quite simply, the plot of the film just didn’t seem inspiring. Obviously, then, expectations from the film were close to nil. I’d like to believe, though, that it wasn’t just rock-bottom expectations that led me to be fairly intrigued by the film when I finally watched it.
Set 50 years after our planet was invaded by and subsequently reclaimed from an alien species known as the Formics, we learn that the powers-that-be have zeroed in on a very peculiar manner of countering any further attacks – training Earth’s brightest adolescent minds in tactical military strategy.
It isn’t completely the fault of this particular film, that it has arrived towards the fag end of the same year that saw films like Oblivion, Gravity, Elysium, After Earth, Pacific Rim, Star Trek Into Darkness and so many more.
Despite being based on a book of the same name written all the way back in 1985, Ender’s Game seems to have so many elements – big and small – similar to these films that it does seem a lot like déjà vu; not to mention how it often reminds you of more seminal sci-fi flicks like The Matrix and Star Wars. Still, the film manages to hold its own by the time you reach the end of it, for more reasons than one.
Despite its futuristic setting, the problems that young Ender faces hit home. He’s a curious, brilliant child, but a bit of a misfit; he doesn’t do so well under authority, quite prone to bursts of rebellion. Apart from being the usual save-the-world effort, the film, then, is also the coming-of-age story of young Ender. Far more interestingly, the film also very clearly raises questions about the art of war itself. Does war have any place for morality? If you are in a war, then is winning the sole objective of the war? What about the way you win it? Does history remember the victor or does it remember the side that fought with their morals intact?
Even with these rather pertinent questions that the film raises, it does so within the periphery of Ender’s story; thus coming across as fairly lightweight and breezy. Not that the pace of the film is brisk, but it keeps you on your toes guessing, while throwing in a twist or two, once in a while; right until the big climactic twist, which pushes the film up a few notches.
Asa Butterfield, last seen as the blue-eyed, angelic titular boy in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, once again plays the titular character in Ender’s Game. His eyes remain piercingly blue, but the difference is that the innocence of childhood has now been replaced by teenage angst and moral dilemma. Unusually lean and scrawny for the lead character in a film of this scale, it is this unassuming physicality which truly makes him stand out as a character. Besides, the boy has an intensity about him that one rarely sees in actors today, and that helps the film tremendously.
Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff appears as worn out and jaded through the film as he seemed in the trailer. Also – though this could be just me - every time the film was in the midst of a space battle simulation scene with Ford sitting at a console trying to train the young cadets to fight, I couldn’t help wishing for him to just whizz away on the Millennium Falcon and show them how it’s done. Viola Davis and Sir Ben Kingsley, both in roles that didn’t particularly need actors of their caliber, do well enough anyway.
Director Gavin Hood, also credited as screenplay writer, doesn’t ever let proceedings get too heavy or tedious. The plot twists are fun and keep you hooked for the large part. And though the VFX aren’t particularly outstanding, they’re largely unobtrusive, letting the story talk for itself. This helps the film as well. With a runtime of under two hours, then, Ender’s Game is a surprisingly watchable film, and sets itself up nicely as a franchise for the future.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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