When I was about 13, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I was reading Asimov and Bradbury and I really loved sci-fi adventures. Unlike a lot of other things on my list, this was a book my friends had read and we could share. I was in the G.A.T.E program at my junior high school, so we all identified with these high-pressure smart kids who couldn’t be blamed for their own catastrophes. Our love was simple; we didn’t think about the implications of the novel and OSC didn’t yet have a blog. It was a long time ago.
Of course, it’s a movie now. Ender himself is a fetching little Napoleon ordered around by a dour metaphor wearing Harrison Ford’s face and the two of them waltz like every double-damned father and son ever given a special effects budget. The effects are dizzying, but fall short of excellent. The story never was any good, unless you were a kid who believed you could have been Ender.
The Good: The film has beautiful moments. It delivers a few facts skillfully and subtly. The two child policy on Earth is not belabored; the expense and unwelcome vibe toward Ender as a “third” comes across neatly without being over-explained. However, most of Ender’s revelations come out of a magical nowhere. He visits that otherspace and chills with Jesus and Neo and Harry Potter and comes back just knowing things he has no reason to know. Of course he does. He’s our Magical Boy.
The cast is surprisingly diverse. The International Fleet looks pretty international for a film made in the States. Viola Davis does a stunner of a job, and Ender’s own team is made up of kids from all over. Of course, the leadership roles are fulfilled by white men and white boys and “half-Maori” tattooed guys in blueface. Still, it’s nice to see a cast of nonwhite actors with speaking roles.
The Bad: Forget being surprised. The plot screams at you from miles away. I’M COMING AND I’M GOING TO BE SUPER OBVIOUS TRY TO ACT SURPRISED. Then it barrels down on you and is oblivious to your boredom. The film cannot make us care about anyone. Ender is smart and resourceful, but also insufferable and eye-rollingly competent at everything without even a musical training montage. His friends are fleeting presences of sweetness and his enemies are one-dimensional mustache-twiddling Malfoys. The adults are always slightly sinister and might as well be wearing sandwich boards marking them as THE MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX and THE EXPERIENCE OF WAR. It’s not a subtle film. It does not make up for a lack of subtlety with jaw-dropping beauty or heart-pounding action. The space-battle sequences all pretty much boil down to tessellated patterns of identical things swarming through space. Like ID4 with a different color scheme. Bravo.
The Boycott: I cannot delicately state how I feel about Orson Scott Card. He is one of the most virulently ignorant and bombastically bigoted writers living today. He offends me deeply and he goes out of his way to offend most of his former fans. I’ll celebrate his death. I bought his books before I knew better. The way things are now, I’d rather eat a live snake than give him a dime. Opening weekend, I bought a ticket to another IMAX movie and snuck into Ender’s. I know there is a rumor that OSC will not profit from the film’s box-office take, but he’s listed as a producer and I don’t buy it. I hope he finds himself starving and panhandling in the gayest neighborhood in America so that he must live on the generous yet humbling charity of the people he’s attacked throughout his career. I’m doing my part to manifest that outcome by not paying to see this film.
Overall: This was not great. This was not mind-blowing in IMAX. It’s not a great story after you’ve grown up and seen that the man behind the curtain is a one-trick pony and a reprehensible toad. It wasn’t worth the subterfuge or the money. Get it from Redbox or other perhaps less legal means if you’re still curious a few months from now. Otherwise, save your money and wait for Catching Fire.