Ender’s Game
Franchise Worthy

There have been plenty of franchise movies released in 2013, but most of them are sequels to, or reboots of, pre-existing franchises.  There have been a couple of movies that were released in hopes of dawning new franchises (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, After Earth), but they were widely considered to be busts. Enter Ender’s Game, based on the 1985 novel of the same name by author Orson Scott Card.  Excellent special effects, a compelling storyline, and a good blend of talented young actors and solid veterans just might turn this sci-fi adventure into the next big franchise.

The movie opens on Earth years after the planet has been attacked by a hostile alien species known as the Formics.  The human race was nearly wiped out until a heroic soldier named Mazer Rackham discovered the Formics’ weakness and exploited it.  Now, in an effort to ensure that the Formics never return to Earth to try again, the international military is recruiting kids and training them to be future commanders.  One such recruit is Ender Wiggin, a quiet, but brilliant boy who has captured the attention of a colonel.

Asa Butterfield as Ender in Ender's GameColonel Graff recruits Ender and takes him to an orbiting space station, where he will join other recruits in a series of war games that are designed to train them in battle strategy and teamwork.  Ender quickly rises up the ranks from new recruit to company leader and along the way collects a group of equally talented followers who will help him pass the ultimate test of leadership.

The novel was released in 1985 and was awarded both the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award for best novel.  It remained a popular novel in the years since its release and is actually on the recommended reading list for officers in the U.S. Marine Corps.  As such, the casting of its main character was a major focus in the science fiction community.  Fortunately, the filmmakers appear to have hit the casting nail right on the head.

Asa Butterfield was cast as Ender shortly after playing the title role in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated Hugo.  He was a revelation in that film and delivers another fine performance here.  His youthful look helps the movie sell the point that the military really is recruiting children to be military leaders.  This seems to have been an emphasis in the casting of this film as all of the main young actors actually look young.  This is quite different from Hunger Games, where the novel suggests that its heroes are kids, but in the movie they look more like adults.  Even while looking very young, however, Butterfield still manages to have the presence needed to convince the audience that he could be the leader we are told he is.

This is very clear in his encounters with the film’s more veteran supporting cast.  At every turn, Butterfield is going toe-to-toe with the likes of Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, and Sir Ben Kingsley.  Each of these actors are as good as you would expect them to be and, let’s face it, it’s nice to see Harrison Ford back in space for the first time since 1983’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

The cast plays a major role in keeping Ender’s Game entertaining from start to finish, but credit also goes to the movie’s remarkable special effects.  The signature set is the battle room, a monstrous space with a diameter of three football fields.  This is where Ender and his fellow recruits compete in the war games. It is an arena void of gravity and filled with giant cubic objects called “stars” which the characters use to shield themselves from the fire of their opponents.  Multiple wire rigs had to be invented in order to create the weightlessness of the characters in these scenes and the actors had to carefully choreograph their movements to keep up the appearance of that weightlessness.  The effect is practically flawless and it creates for some unique and highly entertaining sequences.

The highlight of the story comes in a late-movie twist that immediately brings up questions of morality and ethics.  These questions send Ender off to explore other worlds and surely set up a sequel or two for a film that seems primed to be the start of a new franchise.  There were multiple sequels to the novel, after all.

Ender’s Game is rated PG-13 for “some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.”  Ender has a few violent encounters with some of his fellow recruits, but most of the action is in a training environment and features no blood.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Ender’s Game.