Reviewed by: Raphael Vera
Hailee Steinfeld … Petra Arkanian
Abigail Breslin … Valentine Wiggin
Harrison Ford … Colonel Hyrum Graff
Asa Butterfield … Ender Wiggin
Moises Arias … Bonzo
Ben Kingsley … Mazer Rackham
Viola Davis … Major Gwen Anderson
Andrea Powell … Theresa Wiggin
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|Director||Gavin Hood—“X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Tsotsi,” “Rendition”|
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“Ender’s Game” begins by recounting the alien invasion that came perilously close to destroying Earth fifty years earlier. The military then determined that the only way to survive another alien attack was to actively seek out and train the best and the brightest children to be the military strategists and commanders of the future. As the film opens Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) has identified Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) as Earth’s best hope.
Young Ender is intelligent and very confident, but is not ego driven and actively seeks to avoid confrontations. So, from Ender’s point of view, Colonel Graff does the worst possible thing when he singles him out as “the best” candidate right in front of the other cadets. Graff does this in order to isolate him and drive Ender to be the leader he needs to be in the highly competitive, and, at times, even blood thirsty orbiting training station aptly named “Battle school.”
Ender learned, by growing up with an almost homicidal brother, to face threats head on, decisively, quickly, and this, coupled with his ability to identify the single best strategy in any situation, allows him to rise quickly through the ranks, making friends and enemies alike in the process. The friends he wins by his talent, convictions, humor and by his strong sense of empathy. His enemies are overcome because Ender understands them, their motivations, and, in the process, their weaknesses. Graff recognizes this ability of Ender’s is what is needed most of all if they are to survive, let alone win, the upcoming second alien invasion.
Violence: Heavy. Ender beats his enemies by whatever means are available—viciously pummeling with blunt objects, scalding water in the showers and fists. He is not above kicking an enemy when he is down, and some blood is seen during one violent altercation. As he is then forced to explain why he did this, he admits his objective was “not just to win that fight, but all the ones that would come after.” One enemy is accidentally sent into a coma during another fight. While playing a game simulation, Ender causes his rodent avatar to burrow through the eye socket of an animated enemy. Lastly, one should consider that these children, while practicing war games against the aliens, are effectively practicing genocide time and time again.
Language: Mild. Curses are limited to some derogatory references, such as “crap,” “smart a**,” “balls” and two (2) instances of a “lesser” Spanish curse for an illegitimate child. One time a cadet calls out another student, saying that their mother cheated and that’s why he looks like a plumber, but this is the only instance of innuendo in the film.
Sex/Nudity: None. Although the cadets, both girls and boys, sleep in the same quarters, they are dressed appropriately and told at the outset that showering/bathroom facilities are separated according to gender and that absolutely no breaking of the rules will be tolerated. Ender makes friends with the more experienced cadet named Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), but it is a close friendship similar to the kind of brotherhood forged by fellow soldiers and proves to be a strong but plutonic bond.
A word about authority: as Graff points out, Ender has a problem with it. Throughout the film, it is clear that Ender is prone to question authority, but it is in the context that he is justified in that defiance. Keep in mind, while this is not a proper child rearing technique, that this is also part of what Colonel Graff wants, to a certain extent.
“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice…” —Proverbs 24:17
In a gut-wrenching scene, Ender is forced to defend himself against a bully and accidentally injures him severely. Just as Proverbs instructs all of us how to be righteous, he does not gloat but is very distraught and concerned only for his well-being, reminding us also of what our Savior Jesus Christ himself asked of us:
When Ender first arrives, another new recruit, Bernard, immediately opposes him. Yet, when Ender is given the responsibility of putting together his own team, he picks his former enemy. When asked by Bernard, “Why?” Ender explains that he believes he can be an asset to his group and then asks Bernard, “Am I wrong?” Of course, Bernard says “no,” and a new and loyal teammate is born. Ender is always sharing the credit whenever he can and elevates even his former rivals and, in this case, earns one of God’s many promises to the righteous.
“When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him” —Proverbs 16:7
The movie starts with a quote from Ender that I believe offers a telling glimpse into his psyche, as it reveals both his strength and greatest virtue: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy… well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”
Based on the best selling sci-fi classic book of the same name, the movie captures much of what made Ender’s Game a classic, namely the story of an outcast child who, despite being subjected to both physical and mental abuse, retains a just and honorable heart. A hero who avoids confrontations when possible, but, as his motto suggests, in the process empathizes with his enemy so much that he can almost feel their pain, even as he destroys them.
Asa Butterfield does an excellent job portraying the anguished but truly heroic title character. The special effects for the battle room and war games are impressive and compelling enough that I wish I had seen this in IMAX format. The directors’ expansion of Colonel Graff’s role, played gruffly and perfectly by Harrison Ford, frankly made the untellable story of Ender possible.
Conflict and war appear to be glorified, but rest assured the film’s concluding message and emotional payoff is both astonishing and worthy of the journey. The biggest concern for families will be the violence, and for younger kids I agree some scenes are too frightening and not appropriate. For the rest, I enthusiastically recommend this gripping film with a big heart, as well as the positive discussions I believe will take place after watching “Ender’s Game.”
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Mild—“My G*d” (1) / Sex/Nudity: Mild
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.