Netflix UK film review: Ender’s Game
Laura Humphreys | On 14, Mar 2014
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley
Watch Ender’s Game online in the UK: Netflix UK Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
As stories of a mysterious, anonymous alien threat to destroy the world go, Ender’s Game is interesting, because its weapon of choice is psychotic children. And as anyone with experience of a child who has consumed coke and chocolate knows, it’s quite conceivable that they could destroy worlds if given the right tools and access to Ben Kingsley. Sadly, Ender Wiggin (Butterfield) and co. come across as overly medicated Xbox addicts who couldn’t make a sandwich without a manual.
Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld give pretty average performances as Ender and Petra, which is disappointing in light of their previous work. You are inclined to forgive them, though; the script makes several half-hearted attempts at establishing their characters, but rarely goes beyond “Look! Kids in military school! In space!”
Harrison Ford’s continuing career change to professional grump (not the Jack Dee kind, but the get-off-my-lawn, scary neighbour kind) makes the poor writing worse. Ben Kingsley manages to do the most with the clunky dialogue, but with so little screen time, even he barely registers.
The backdrop to the action, however, is pretty impressive. Money and expertise have been hurled at the visuals, and it shows. It is a shame that Ender’s Game was released in the same year as Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, because the film’s Battle Room is one of the best depictions of zero-gravity ever made. The Formic Queen is perfection too, even if some of the wide shots of the Formic Army lack detail.
But no matter how good the visuals are, it’s the novel’s driving narrative that the film lacks. Minor tweaks, like the antagonists – formerly “the Buggers”, now “the Formics” – couldn’t matter less (interestingly, though, that particular change is in light of author Orson Scott Card’s well-publicised views on gay rights) but the central threads of hegemony, militarism and lost innocence have been toned down beyond recognition. There are tiny flashes of darkness here and there, but what should have been a psychological thriller is just a silly sci-fi romp with delusions of grandeur.
And that is the fundamental misunderstanding of Ender’s Game: it has been mistaken as a story for kids, when it is actually a story about kids, in the same vein as Lord of the Flies. And if you think Ender’s Game can’t touch Flies for violence and barbarity, think again. Ender Wiggin is treated as a semi-sentient computer, trained in an adult world for the sake of humanity. You should walk away thinking of him as a tortured soul, but instead you leave the film thinking: “I hope Asa doesn’t do a Culkin on us.”
Children will probably while away a couple of hours on Ender’s Game happily, but will it be a film they look back to fondly as an adult? There is early promise of gravity and importance, but it is lost among (excellent) special effects and a stilted script. Inconsistent and carelessly adapted, Ender’s Game is infinitely forgettable.
Ender’s Game is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.