Ender’s Game (2013) Review (PG-13)


I was going to pass on ‘Ender’s Game’ at the theater. There was nothing in any of the trailers that made me want to see it. So why am I reviewing it? I guess the pull of the Rave Mo—… I mean, the Carmike…  Theater was too strong. The night I saw this (some time ago), I even took in a double bill… I can’t help it, I’m weak… But, I knew nothing about the movie going in (other than it was ‘sci-fi’ and starred Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley wearing a ridiculous ‘face tattoo’ and Asa Butterfield, the young actor from Martin Scorsese’s kid in a clock movie).  Therefore, I had no expectations. That can be a good thing sometimes.


The story takes place in the future and centers around a tweener cadet named Ender (played by Asa Butterworth)… hence the title… at a military school. Mankind has been at war with an alien race for 50 years, so typical school curriculums involve combat training and military strategy. The cadets are also constantly monitored by international allied forces to find those with the ‘right qualities’ that might aid in the war effort. And when I said  “constantly monitored “, I mean in the creepy microchip implanted/24-7  surveillance kind of way. Those that are found to have the proper qualities are spirited away to ‘Battle School’ to basically compete for the chance to go to the front lines (or at least command those at said place). At some point Ender confronts another cadet who is a bit of a poor sport, who after losing a game of wits to the title character decides to resort to violence (along with his cronies). Ender proves resourceful, though, and manages to fend off the group. He is kicked out of school for his actions, but is recruited into ‘Battle School’ because of his solution to the problem. The problem though, is that while Ender is brilliant at war games, driven to be the best and as arrogant as they come, he’s a bit of an emotionally detached pacifistic anti-authority rebel, so he has to be challenged/tricked by his recruiter, Colonol Graff (Harrison Ford), in order to accept the challenge of attending the most coveted school in the land. There are many contradictions to the title character and to this film, most of which stem from whatever’s convenient to the plot (or whatever the film makers are deciding to convey at a given moment). There were many times when what was occurring onscreen did not seem logical to me especially in the actions of thecharacters, but, anyway… I digress. Back to the plot.


Battle School is an off-world facility where the best and the brightest are sorted and trained. Ender, of course, is the best and the brightest (again…hence the movie’s title), and almost immediately establishes himself as his platoon’s leader. There are several of these platoons of tweeners that train for military duty/combat and are pitted against one another in excercises both physical and virtual. Unbeknownst to Ender, he is being personally monitored by Graff, who sees Ender as ‘the One’ who will defeat the Enemy and lead Mankind to its Salvation against the alien invaders. Which brings me to one of the problems of the film (and there are quite a few). Several times in the story, there is ‘war footage’ of when the Earth’s greatest soldier, Mazer Rackham, single handedly defeats the alien armada when they first arrive to Earth. Each time the footage ends before we get to see the outcome of the battle. Combine this with the fact that throughout most of the film, there is very little, if anything at all, shown of the ‘enemy’, which if you’re like me, you will either go “hmmm”, or you’ll just figure out what’s coming before the characters in the story do… which is NEVER a good thing. I guess I’ve been saying this a lot lately in my film reviews, but here’s another movie that is far too predictable for its own good. Once I knew where the film was going, which was VERY early on, it took a little of the enjoyment out of it. I felt like I needed to ‘fast forward’, so the film got a little tedious when it seemed like they were trying to build up to the ‘big surprise’ when most of the audience will have figured it out long beforehand.


Another problem is that I’m not sure who the film was intended for. Were the novels this derived from aimed at young adults or a general science fiction audience? I don’t know. The movie is PG-13, so I would think this was aimed at the teen set, but film’s pacing is more like ‘real’ science fiction’ (slower, less action). Take out any romantic interest in the film and you’re probably alienating the what would be the film’s intended core audience. There are children in the film, but I really wouldn’t call this a kid’s film. It does present some interesting ideas: fascist societies, indoctrination, xenophobia, the fear of the unknown, insidious propaganda, the use of children to fight wars…There’s a lot there. The idea of  kids weened on video games eventually having the inability to distinguish between a physical world and a virtual world is interesting… But, all of this was a little too dumbed down for an adult audience, either, so I have no idea who the filmmakers had in mind for an audience.


That’s not to say there is nothing good about the film. That the film was about something was encouraging, what with some of the other PG-13 franchises that have been spawned in the last decade or so (I’m looking at you Twilight… And YOU Harry Potter…). The film’s FX were definitely top notch. They may have been a little too slick for my tastes, but there’s no denying the art in what was onscreen. Some of the training sequences, and I’m think specifically of those that were in zero gravity, were fairly astounding and very well crafted. There seemed to be more thought that went into those scenes than any other in the film.

Ender’s Game might’ve been a little too derivative of other better films that had similar storylines (or at least had similar aspects). Stanley Kubrick’s classic Full metal Jacket, about the horrors of war, kept coming to mind. In fact, a lot of the time it looked like its screenwriter/director was watching that film while he was writing  and creating the military training scenes in this one…. Only this one was tamed down with kids… And without FMJ’s drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey screaming soul crushing expletives at them. The main film that this will be compared with, though, is obviously Paul Verhoeven’s own anti-war classic ‘Starship Troopers’. It tread the same ground of a future militaristic, fascist society in a war with an insect-like (or arachnid-like) alien species. That one had a little more bite to it than this one (and a lot more humor… It’s pure satire). if you’re going to see one, I would recommend watching ‘Troopers’ instead of ‘Ender’. Film Critic Mark Kermode stated that he thought the two would make an interesting double bill, but I think it would be just short of watching a film and its remake back to back… And who needs that?


The actors were all adequate in the film, but no more, no less. You got what you usually get from Harrison Ford these days… Solid, but nothing out of the usual for him. he might even be a little crotchety. Ben Kingsley is always a welcome face onscreen, even if his face is as ridiculous as it is here. His Ender’s Game accent of choice is kiwi/ new Zealander, I think.He always seems to be having a lot of fun doing what he’s doing, no matter what kind of movie it is. Asa Butterchurn and the other kids in the film do just fine, but sometimes with kid actors, they seem to be just ‘hitting their marks’ when and how they’re told. that seemed to be the case here. I do think Butterscotch was probably not the right choice for the protagonist. His character was someone who was supposed to be very impressive… a natural leader… charismatic. I don’t think he really characterized that at any point in the film. I could accept the scrawny Butterfingers overpowering a much larger, older kid easier than I could buy him as a poised natural leader, I guess.


It may just be another case where I have seen too many films, but I don’t think so. This wasn’t where everything in the movie was completely ‘by the numbers’, but it never really surprised me. If you like science fiction , but have not seen very many science fiction films… or films in general… Then you may like this more than I did. Even after all of my ‘negativity’ about Ender’s deficiencies, I still find that it if I had to just say ‘good movie’ or ‘bad movie’ that it would still manage to juuuuust slip over the Mendoza line… But, just barely. I can think of quite a few of these ‘franchise wannabes’ that I’ve seen this year that were far less intelligent than this, so compared to the other PG-13 ‘based on a novel or series’ efforts that Hollywood tries to put over on the public at large, this one was okay for a time waster…  relatively speaking. But, I’ll probably never watch it again  or any possible sequel (if it managed to make the necessary box office/DV/Blu-Ray sales figures) and I’ll be just fine with that.

3 of 5

EndersGAmeTitles copy


One Response to “Ender’s Game (2013) Review (PG-13)”

  1. missdisplaced Says:

    The novel was intended for young adult readers, who, I think would relate to the messages therein. The novel spends MUCH more time delving into Ender’s psyche, and time in Battle School, which I doubt could be accomplished in the film (though I haven’t seen it yet).

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