Sometimes a movie takes you by surprise. I had no desire to see Ender’s Game until a friend suggested it. The science fiction genre isn’t a real draw for me, and neither are kid-themed movies. That being said, Ender’s Game was darn good. Based on a novel of the same name, the film chronicles the development of Ender, a young boy who is destined to save Earth.
The movie begins at an unspecified future date, after the planet has narrowly survived an intergalactic battle about 20 years prior. The military believes that the best defense is a good offense, and looks to the best and brightest children to form the army of tomorrow. This underlying premise was fascinating to me. There’s something creepy about viewing children in adult-like settings and situations rather than the protective lens through which they are usually portrayed. Here, the characters behaved like adults, displaying both callousness and wisdom beyond their years. Despite their maturity and the responsibilities with which they’re tasked, the viewer never forgets that these are just kids – even if they don’t act like it.
Among the gifted recruits, young Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) quickly distinguishes himself. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford, Paranoia) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis, Prisoners) of the army identify leadership qualities in Ender. He is compassionate without being weak, strategic rather than emotional in his decision-making. When provoked, he will defend himself, but he does not need to intimidate others. He is gifted but humble, secure that his abilities will speak for themselves – thereby precluding the need to best his classmates. Ender is the perfect balance of compassion and aggression.
After identifying the best of the best, Colonel Graff and his collection of multi-culti super kids head to space for training. Ender’s abilities may have Graff and Anderson hooked, but they do nothing to endear him to his peers, who are envious of all the attention he receives. Eventually he wins over the other recruits by showing that he will stand up for himself and challenge authority. To put it simply, some people are natural born leaders, and Ender is special. This was highlighted in a really great scene where Ender masterminds a winning strategy in a critical training exercise. While Ender goes through his training, Graff and Anderson keep a watchful eye on their prized pupil.
In the movie’s final act, Ender must complete his training successfully before being entrusted with command of the International Army. The fate of humanity depends on his readiness to protect Earth. I won’t spoil the movie’s resolution, but hopefully I’ve said enough to entice you. I enjoyed the psychological elements of the movie; from the way Ender expertly navigated the social pitfalls posed by the other recruits, to the manner in which Graff and Anderson dissected his behavior. Asa Butterfield was a charismatic leading young man, and he embodied the character well. I was so taken by the movie that I thought about naming my kid Ender if I ever have a son. Yeah, I’m buggin’.