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‘Ender’s Game’ worth playing

By Frank Ruggiero (frank@mountaintimes.com)



Article Published: Nov. 7, 2013 | Modified: Nov. 7, 2013
‘Ender’s Game’ worth playing

Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield star in 'Ender's Game.'



“Ender’s Game” or “Dracula.”


As a middle-schooler at an early-’90s book fair, I chose the latter, based largely on the fact that, well, it was “Dracula.”

As a film critic at a 2013 movie theater, I chose “Ender’s Game,” based largely on the fact that, well, it was that or “Last Vegas.”

Both times I came out a winner.

Based on the best-selling sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card, “Ender’s Game” is also a winner. While not as thought provoking as it intends to be, this big-budget blockbuster is, no doubt, compelling science fiction.

With first-rate performances, an intriguing story, outstanding special effects and a curmudgeonly Harrison Ford, it’s a movie that rewards viewers who go with the flow.

The story opens in the not-too-distant future, 50 years after Earth barely survived an alien invasion. In the five decades since, humanity has rallied behind an international military banner, its leaders intent on taking the fight to their enemy, thereby preventing another attack.

Aware that this would be a battle fought by the next generation, the International Fleet recruits the brightest-minded children and subjects them to rigorous training — academically, tactically and even socially, with only the best of the best advancing to the next level.

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield, “Hugo”) is one of them. Noting not only his off-the-chart grades, but also the way young Ender handles a bully — namely beating him senseless to prevent a future incident — Col. Graff (Harrison Ford, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) realizes the boy is something special.

As such, he’s promptly graduated to battle school, leaving his family behind to live and train on an orbital station far above Earth. With his new set of classmates, including Petra (Hailee Steinfeld, 2010’s “True Grit”) and Bean (Aramis Knight, “The Dark Knight Rises”), Ender’s skills and determination are put to the test in a series of war games, all designed to train the young minds for the winner-takes-all battle against their mysterious alien foe.

One of Ender’s instructors, Maj. Anderson (Viola Davis, “The Help”), realizes the toll this conditioning takes on the children, but Graff is determined that the ends will justify the means. To him, there’s simply no other choice.

As Ender advances leaps and bounds ahead of his fellow classmates, he, too, begins to question the mission, realizing that even though his intensions are pure, the consequences of his actions could be horrific.

Following a climactic plot twist, we catch a glimpse of what sort of ramifications Ender and his cohorts must suffer, but there’s obviously so much story to tell that the emotional punch misses its mark for the sake of pacing.

As a result, “Ender’s” ending seems somewhat rushed, but, to director and writer Gavin Hood’s (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) credit, it’s satisfying enough, and there’s still plenty to enjoy.

Although Hood’s brisk pacing results in somewhat of a spoiler toward the end, it also works to the film’s benefit. Instead of relying on obligatory exposition to draw viewers into the story, the film essentially gets right to the point, conveying backstory through its characters and dialogue.

Butterfield is brilliant as Ender, delivering what’s easily the best performance in the film. Ford and Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi”), who appears in a smaller role, are entertaining as always, as is Nonso Anozie (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) as the no-nonsense Sgt. Dap.

Visual effects are also top-notch, with the filmmakers presenting a deft blend of physical sets, models and computer-generated imagery.

Despite its visual grandeur and big budget, “Ender’s Game” keeps things on a relatively smaller scale, presenting a well-contained, human story that doesn’t break any boundaries. It’s not quite the epic it purports itself to be, but it’s a game well worth playing.

“Ender’s Game,” rated PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.


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