For Ender’s Game, I went in completely blind to the storyline. I didn’t read the book so that I would retain that first initial feeling of awe this trailer gave me. This is another movie that benefited from excellent marketing. The trailers only tell us so much, hinting at the enormity of the world building and dropping tidbits of the characters. This is the third such trailer of I’ve run into this year. It’s as if someone in Hollywood is remembering how to make trailers again.
It’s a beautiful thing to behold, folks. Beyond that, however, is the movie itself. Anchored around the storyline of humanity versus aliens, the story goes a few shades deeper. Earth was attacked by a group of aliens called Formics. Earth’s forces managed to send them away but now the planet lives in perpetual fear of a possible return. So, the logical step for this version of our planet was to begin picking up the smartest kids and training them for war. Looking at that last line, I’m reminded of our military draft, where we picked up our young men, when they barely became men, and sent them off to fight an enemy that they don’t really know or understand, outside of propaganda.
Further than that, however, is the search for the child that will save us once and for all. One such candidate is Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield – proving that he’s right up there with the likes of Dakota Fanning in terms of child prodigies). The children’s progress is studied via monitors implanted into the backs of their necks as they play war simulations that test their tactical abilities. As we come in, Ender has already proven to be a tactical genius. We watch him systemically lead his opponent straight into annihilation. If you blink, you’ll miss it. It’s swift. It’s brutal. And, allow me to be terribly young for a moment, it’s awesome. I have a keen appreciation for strategy, don’t mind me.
Moving forward, the scene is cut between Ender’s victory, his infuriated opponent and Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford – playing a vaguely sinister father figure), who observes the whole thing with an air of smug pride. Beside him, Major Anderson (Viola Davis – with her soft, sad eyes) looks torn as the inevitable confrontation plays out. You expect the beatdown. You expect the relentless attack. But you don’t expect it to be delivered from slim, wide-eyed Ender, who does his best to leave his bootprint on his attacker’s lungs. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is mindless aggression. Ender does nothing without thinking it completely through.
This is only the first moment of violence throughout the film. It is toted as a military film and though we have children in the roles that we are more comfortable seeing adults in, it still doles out carefully choreographed, unflinchingly straightforward brutality. I know there is a level of discomfort that it’s going to cause. It is likely a sign of the times we live in that I could watch this and silently cheer. It could also be that I wanted Ender to win because he looks weak and is treated as thus. It’s a rule of story to root for the underdog. The film runs on the fact that we will sympathize with Ender as Graff plucks him off Earth and hustles him into space, systematically working to bring Ender to the forefront and mold him into the commanding force he needs to lead the fleet.
But like the bully and Graff alike, we quickly learn that Ender’s mind and determination would ensure that those who hurt him in the past won’t be able to hurt him again; that is far greater than anyone else’s will to do him harm. Nothing about this movie is what it seems, least of all Ender Wiggins. That is the beauty of it and the surprising one-two punch of it. Surrounding all of this is the stunning film set and CGI work. It’s sterile, stern, and sharp as space movies tend to be yet there are warm colors injected everywhere, reminding you of the humanity beneath it. Interestingly, it is not Earth that has the warmest colors. Despite being full of rich greens and browns, our planet feels stagnant, as if we are looking at a carefully preserved painting. It is the aliens that actually have the warmest coloring. The little bit of their world that we get to see is a soft, rusty orange-brown that has hints of being Mars-like but there’s a soft quality to it still that ends up being forlorn once the film’s big twist hits. There’s far more humanity in the alien world than there is in ours in more ways than one. Which, of course, begs the question of who is the real cold-hearted being in this film. It’s well worth a watch to find out.
Ender’s Game manages to be a huge war movie and a beautifully told story all at once. I highly recommend catching this film in IMAX to enjoy every rich, nuanced detail. And then go see it again.
Ender’s Game is now in theaters everywhere.
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