November 7, 2013

'Ender's Game' thoughtful, morally complicated


---- — Controversy surrounded the film “Ender’s Game” because of author Orson Scott Card’s views on gay marriage.

The adaptation of his 1985 bestseller, however, doesn’t even approach that topic. Instead, it’s a thoughtful and morally complicated sci-fi allegory with enough strong points to outweigh its sluggish stretches.

Staying relatively true to the book, “Ender’s Game” follows 12-year-old Ender Wiggin, a self-effacing genius who may be humanity’s best hope for survival.

Asa Butterfield (Hugo in “Hugo”) is very good as Ender, a loner who has been drafted into Battle School, where he and other youngsters train for leadership positions in a military bent on defending the earth from the insect-like Formics.

The aliens nearly destroyed the planet 50 years earlier, and now the united strength of humankind has sent a force to the Formics’ world for a preemptive strike — though apparently we have decided that our entire military might needs to be controlled by the agile, video-game-infused mind of one of the tweens being trained en route to the battle.

Ender is awkward and nerdy and hard to imagine as the savior of the human race. He is faced with bullying, isolation and suffocating expectations, but Butterfield deftly shows him growing. Ender directs his compatriots in zero gravity training battles, gains confidence and respect, but struggles to incorporate empathy into his strategically perfect decisions.

Harrison Ford plays the grown-up influence, manipulative Colonel Hyrum Graff, with Viola Davis as Major Anderson, his rarely-heard conscience. Ben Kingsley, who teamed with Butterfield in “Hugo,” also appears as a mentor late in the movie.

Hailee Steinfeld (so good in “True Grit”) plays Petra, Ender’s female sidekick, who throws him a line when he’s alone. Abigail Breslin is his sister, Valentine, the sibling too warm-hearted for Battle School — the polar opposite of their ultra-aggressive brother.

“Ender’s Game” looks good and the effects are solid, but the movie doesn’t have as much action as you would think. Almost all of the film involves the young “launchies” training for combat in some way and it undeniably drags at times, a lot like watching other people play video games.

The story, though, is morally complex and ultimately satisfying, though the obvious pandering for a sequel may not quite be justified.

Rental Recommendation: Bloody, campy and cartoonish, “Starship Troopers” was still good fun, if not very true to its source material. Grade: B+.

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"Ender's Game" Grade: B Starring: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld Rated: PG-13 (for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material) Running time: 114 minutes