Col. Graff: You'll be the finest commander that we've ever trained. Ender: So I'm not the first. Mazer Rackham: No. But you will be the last.
Ender's Game is a film adaptation of Orson Scott Card's most famous book. After years in Development Hell, it was finally green-lit and slated for a November 2013 release. Gavin Hood is both its screenwriter and director, and the film has an All-Star Cast including Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, ViolaDavis, and Abigail Breslin.In the near future, Earth is attacked by a hostile alien species called the Formics, whose invasion kills millions of humans. They were finally repelled, though, when the brilliant pilot Mazer Rackham identified their weakness and crippled their fleet. The Formics lost the war and retreated to their homeworld, preparing another fleet. In the meantime, humanity too began to prepare their own military to ensure another Formic assault would not occur.Gifted children are recruited in hopes of training them to become admirals for humanity's fleet. They are trained at the orbital station Battle School, overseen by Colonel Hyrum Graff. Graff has his eyes on one boy in particular, Ender Wiggin, who he's certain has the potential to lead their entire fleet. But Ender's training will not be limited to his classes and the school's war games. He's going to be manipulated and tested to his breaking point at all times, to ensure that the human species will survive.
This film provides examples of:
Absent Aliens: A variant - aside from the starships, none of the Formics are seen up close. The only glimpse of what they look like is a brief scene of Ender reading an anatomy chart of them. Except at the end of the movie, when Ender meets the queen face-to-face.
Adaptation Distillation: Many of the minor battles in Battle School are not shown to save for time, but are still implied to have happened.
Bernard in the book was merely a bully to Ender, and only cooperated with him when they had the mutual friend Alai. In the film, Bernard and Ender forgive each other and he even becomes part of Dragon Army and Ender's jeesh.
Major Anderson in the book often objected to Col. Graff, but was more concerned with preserving the integrity of the Battle Room rules and Battle School society than about Ender's wellbeing. To contrast better with Graff, Anderson in the film has more moral concerns, even quitting after Bonzo is killed, whereas the book Anderson became the new principal of the Battle School.
Petra, like the other commanders, was greatly resentful and jealous of Ender in the book due to the Dragon Army's unbeatable winning streak and him easily taking down her own jeesh. The film seamlessly brushes past that and turns her into Ender's Lancer. She also gets an important role in the final battle, as opposed to her controversial Worf Effect treatment in the book.
The xenocide of the Formic species is presented just as negatively as it was in the book, but the true reasons for the Formics' aggression are never explored. It's never explained that the Formics' Hive Mind made it impossible for them to understand that humans were individually sentient, and that they tried to stop the killing when they realized that humans weren't simply animals.
Ender's decision to leave Earth to look for a new Formic homeworld isn't explained nearly as thoroughly as it was in the book, leaving us with the impression that his only plan is to wander the universe aimlesslyout of guilt. In the book, it was explained that the post-xenocide political situation made it impossible for him to return to Earth, because he knew that he would be targeted for assassination or pulled into the war with the Second Warsaw Pact. Also, it was explained that the Formics' demise opened up their former colony worlds to human colonization, and that Ender accepted an offer to join the colonization program as a governor.
Downplayed with Peter Wiggin. His status as an Anti-Villain is never shown in the film, but only because the subplot featuring him is not included in the theatrical cut of the film. This also owes itself to the fact that Peter gets very little screen time. However, while they do leave in the "Buggers and aliens" game, they cut out the part where Peter tells Ender in detail how easily he could murder him and get away with it if he felt like it, downgrading him to a Big Brother Bully instead of an outright sociopath.
However, Graff suffers badly from this. Since the movie changes the back story so that the Formics only attacked once, his motivation becomes much flimsier. Combine that with the fact that he never expresses regret for his actions or empathy for Ender as he does in the book, and he comes off as a warmongering Jerkass, if not an outright villain.
Age Lift: See Pragmatic Adaptation. The characters were aged up to preteens rather than small children, likely because it would be exceedingly hard to find 6 year old actors that can carry an entire movie.
Alien Invasion: The backstory of the film is the Formics' attack on Earth. The humans are attempting to invert this trope by attacking the Formics' home planet.
Asshole Victim: Stilson and Bonzo, the two boys who force Ender into a fight at different points in the film. Both of them act very bully-like, and neither one of them seems to know when they've had enough. In the film at least, Ender isn't a psychopath, and stops attacking them when he realizes they're no longer a threat to him. And though Ender does feel some remorse for his attackers, both times the bullies had it coming after Ender delivers a Curb-Stomp Battle to them.
Awesomeness by Analysis: Ender can bring down far stronger opponents by quick thinking and using the environment to his advantage.
Badass Boast: After taking out the bully in the beginning, Ender dissuades his friends from taking revenge by pointing out just how brutally he'll fight back if they try it.
Beware the Nice Ones: Ender's generally a nice guy, but it's a bad idea to get on his bad side. He knows exactly how to wreck people if he needs to.
Big Brother Is Watching: Recruits get tagged with a transmitter linked to their senses, allowing the overseers to hear and see everything they do. The tag is removed upon promotion.
Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: After Bonzo tries to dictate what Ender can do in his free time, Ender threatens to have him iced if he tries it again. Then he offers Bonzo a way out that will make him look like the one in charge even though he's being forced to play along.
Broken Pedestal: Rackham's and Graff's unapologetic stance about the Formics' destruction ruins whatever respect Ender held for them.
Bug War: The Formic-Human conflict is a classic example.
Child Soldier: All of the "launchies" are technically this, something that disturbs Anderson to no end.
Combat Pragmatist: In the beginning, Ender gets into a fight with a classmate. After goading him into a one-on-one fight, he grabs the nearest blunt object to knock the bully down then kicks him until he stays there. Against Bonzo, who does this while Ender's in the shower, he turns the water up to full heat then sprays it in Bonzo's face, and also rubs on some fresh soap so that Bonzo can't get a hold of him. And during his match against both Salamander and Leopard, he utilizes some effective techniques against the other team despite being outnumbered 2 to 1 in that match, such as launching one of his teammates out on a rope so said teammate could gather intel on where the enemy team was hiding behind the blocks and be roped back in to let Ender know.
Compressed Adaptation: The film's events take place in less than a year, as opposed to the five years of the book (and another five for the epilogue). See "Pragmatic Adaptation" below for a full list of what got cut out.
This is Ender's entire M.O. His feeling is that he wants to win not just this fight, but all the other ones to follow. Amongst other things, he invokes Kick Them While They Are Down as a form of psychological warfare.
Ender believes that devastating the Formic homeworld and eradicating their race in response to their invasion of Earth was this. This makes sense given the context of how he dealt with his bullies, whom he never intended to kill, only drive off. Note his reaction to his and Bonzo's fight.
Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sgt. Dap is a textbook example. He becomes much less severe when Ender gets promoted.
Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Played with. The Formic homeworld is not literally blown to pieces, but gradually disintegrates, while the surface that has not yet melted becomes a burning wasteland from the igniting of the atmosphere.
Everything Is an iPod in the Future: The children's "desks" look and "feel" like slightly futuristic iPads, just as they were portrayed in the novel... which was released in 1985.
Exact Words: When recruiting Ender, Graff tells him that his thoughts won't be monitored and his privacy rights restored. When Ender later complains about the Battle School blocking his emails, Graff retorts that he said his thoughts would be private, but his emails aren't.
Eye Scream: In the Mind Game, the rat that Ender controls kills a giant by chewing out his eye and then possibly his brain.
Foreshadowing: Ender's first scene has him playing a starfighter dogfight video game against Stilson, which he wins by tricking Stilson's ship into crashing into an asteroid. Not only does this foreshadow Ender's tactic of using the environment to his advantage, but it also point to his fistfight against Stilson later when he accuses Ender of cheating because he didn't actually destroy Stilson's fighter personally. And, most obviously, Ender will end up commanding real starships soon.
Major Anderson, a male character in the novel, is played by Viola Davis.
Card planned for Graff to be gender-flipped when he was trying to adapt Ender's Game himself; when Hood took over, he cast Harrison Ford instead.
Glad I Thought of It: Invoked several times by Ender. Knowing that Bonzo values looking good in front of his army, he deliberately allows people to assume that his own smart ideas were really Bonzo's. Of course, Bonzo himself knows that he didn't think of those ideas, so the knowledge that Ender is the real genius fills him with seething jealousy.
Guns Akimbo: Ender does this in the match between Salamander and Leopard army.
Hive Mind: What the Formics have, which makes their fleets all the more coordinated and quick to react.
Hoist by His Own Petard: During class, Benard transmits a message to the other students' consoles mocking Alai's vomit incident. Ender then covertly sends a message mocking Benard's intelligence. When Benard blurts this out, the teacher quips that he shouldn't insult people if he can't take it in turn.
Hormone-Addled Teenager: Invoked when Sgt. Dap threatens to personally neuter any launchie caught in the area reserved for the opposite sex. Seems to have worked, since nothing remotely naughty happens on screen for the duration of the movie.
This is a favored tactic of Ender's in the battle sphere, on account of the fact that the weapons don't actually cause any harm, instead merely triggering the suit to paralyze the wearer. It thus doesn't matter how many times someone gets shot, as long as the one they're protecting is fine.
A robotic variation of this occurs in the final battle simulation, when Ender orders his teammate's drones to form a protective barrier around Petra's ship while her Wave Motion Gun recharges.
Hypocritical Humor: When hearing Ender's name aboard the shuttle, Bean taunts him for it. When asked his own name, though, he admits "Bean" isn't exactly something to brag about.
I Did What I Had to Do: Graff insists that lying to Ender, exploiting his talents, and exterminating an alien species were necessary to secure the future of the human race.
I'll Kill You!: Bonzo threatens Ender with this after Ender has shown him up a couple times.
I Know Mortal Kombat: In the film's universe, mastering a skill in a game is directly linked to mastering it in real life, and the entire premise dwells upon this principle. Could well be The Movie of the trope.
Improbable Age: Becoming a Commander of the fleet at the tender age of 10? Seems about right.
Semi-justified in the movie, where it's stated that a) the fleets ready to destroy the Formics are almost at the Formic homeworld, b) Ender has been covertly scouted for years for exactly this sort of thing, and c) children are noted as being better at inputting and processing data.
Indy Ploy: Exploited by the fleet command, who pick Ender specifically for his ability to improvise and think outside the box.
Insectoid Aliens: The Formics. The name by which they are referred to is derived from the Latin word for ant.
Instant-Win Condition: In the battle sphere, if a player passes through the enemy gate without having being hit prior, their team wins regardless of score. Ender's Game itself is the Former Trope Namer ("The Enemy Gate Is Down").
Jerkass: Ender's brother Peter, Bernard (though he later becomes friendly to Ender) and Bonzo.
Last of His Kind: The Formic Queen and her larva seem to be the only examples of the species left in existence after the destruction of their homeworld.
Lighter and Softer: Both of Ender's show-downs with bullies are softened. Although Ender sends one boy to the hospital and breaks the other boy's neck, it's not certain whether or not they survived, as Ender doesn't believe Graff's assurances that they'll recover. In the book, both boys die thanks to Ender stamping their nose into their brain, although again Ender is never told of this until after the war.
Ender's mental state near the end of Command School is lightened up.
Motivational Lie: Ender's superiors lie to him about the nature of his final mission so that he wouldn't endure the psychological pressure of risking real lives, nor hesitate to destroy an entire planet full of sentient beings.
Multinational Team: Ender's command staff, as is appropriate for an organization called the "International Fleet" that is in charge of saving the whole planet, has kids from multiple ethnicities: African-colored-Dutch-raised Dink, Arab Alai, Greek-ish Bean, Armenian Petra, and plain-white Bernard (French in the book, American in the film). However, we're still stuck with a White Male Lead, and it's also interesting that every jeesh member from East Asia (the Japanese Shen, Chinese Hot Soup and Filipino Fly Molo) and South America (Dumper) was cut, along with three more white guys (Australian Carn Carby, Russian Vlad and British Crazy Tom).
My God, What Have I Done?: Ender has this reaction at the end of the film, after he realizes the simulations he and his teammates played, were actual battles between Earth's forces and the Formic.
Mythology Gag: A few of the events from the larger "Enderverse" are hinted at, without being described in great detail. Ender's father, John Paul Wiggin, briefly mentions being brought to America by the International Fleet, referencing the prequel short story "The Polish Boy"; Bean mentions that he grew up on the streets, and that he got his nickname because he was told that he "[wasn't] worth a bean", referencing his origin story described in Enders Shadow; Mazer has a speech where he tells Ender that his Maori tattoos are "a way to speak for the dead", referencing Ender's future destiny as "The Speaker for the Dead" in the sequel novel of the same name.
Never Trust a Trailer: Ender shouting "NOW!" is often cut to seem as though it's from the final battle. It's actually from an earlier battle in an ice field.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment Mazer Rackham shoots down a Formic, only to have a piece of debris from the vanquished foe slice through his wingman's fighter.
No Hugging, No Kissing: There isn't a barest hint of romance between Ender and Petra, despite the trailers seeming to hint at it. There are enough scenes featuring the two by themselves for there to be some Ship Tease, though.
The Sergeant even says as much when he informs the group that they are not to enter opposite-gender areas of the school. The battle school seems to have no problems with this issue so far as we ever see.
Non-Specifically Foreign: Ender's father is established as an immigrant, and speaks with an nonspecific accent, but his origin is left unexplained in the film. The book explains that he's Polish.
Not So Different: Obvious parallels are drawn between Formics' swarms controlled by Queens and human remote-controlled space drones. Also, Graff says that both human and Formic populations have become unsustainable, and it is heavily implied that Formics are driven by the same concern for the survival of their species as humans are.
Not Using the Z Word: A variant. In the book, the aliens are rarely addressed as Formics and are more commonly known by the derogatory term used against them - "Buggers". In the film, the Formics are always addressed by their name, and are never addressed as "Buggers". This may be to avoid coming across as profane by British standards.
This happens in the Shadow books, as well. After someone mentions "Bugger", they are berated for using such a derogatory term. The audioplay mostly uses "Formic", except in scenes where someone is really angry.
Older Than He Looks: Asa Butterfield, age 14-15 at the time of filming, looks barely 11, perfect for the part of Ender who is supposed to be one of the youngest kids in the program.
Oh Crap: Said word for word by Bernard during the final battle, when seeing that their shot of the Dr. Device only obliterated part of the fleet. The rest of the Formic fleet has just arrived, and is thousands of times more massive than the fleet they just fought.
Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: The Mind Game that Ender plays looks and feels like a 2013 Playstation video game. This also counts as foreshadowing because the "graphics" of the "simulated battles" are a huge step up from the game.
Playing Possum: Ender utilizes this tactic against Leopard army. He deliberately floats towards them and doesn't move, as if he's already been hit and immobilized. Then he grabs a second gun when he floats close enough to it, and starts shooting Leopard army with it. Though he doesn't make it to the enemy gate, he does take out quite a few of the enemy team before he's really taken out in the match.
Poor Communication Kills: Played straight twice with both major factions. The formics have no comprehension that each human is an individual mind until after they've slaughtered a few million people, while humanity has no knowledge the formics have no intention of starting another war and feel an all-out attack is a justified reprisal. Each side is horribly misinformed, and its this lack of understanding which drives the tragedy forward.
Population Control: Due to overpopulation, families are allowed a maximum of two children. Ender is a government-approved exception, as the IF had considered recruiting his siblings but wanted someone with a personality balance between the two. Despite his case being legal, he still receives prejudice from other kids for being a "Third".
In the book, it's explained that his parents jumped at the chance to have another child, as expected by the IF, as his father is Polish Catholic while his mother is a Mormon, both religions promoting large families.
Pragmatic Adaptation: Writer/director Gavin Hood cut almost everything that doesn't directly involve Ender to avoid diluting the effect of his story in the limited space of a two-hour movie. The result is that several characters who are important in the book have their roles dramatically reduced or simplified.
The book opens with Ender six years old, and he is 11 when he fights the Final Battle (and 15 counting the epilogue chapters!). For the film, Ender and his jeesh are 10, and played by teenagers. And all the casual nudity in the book is cut out to ensure a lower than R rating.
Ender's time in Rat and Phoenix Army is cut. Dink Meeker is also now a part of Salamander Army instead of Rat.
Bonzo's objections to Ender's free time training is that he's practicing with Petra. In the book, it's because he's practicing with his former Launchies despite now being in an army.
Dragon Army's training is cut and only one battle is shown, utilizing elements from several of the book's battles. Its members also include several former teammates of Ender, when in the book he didn't know any of his new soldiers, almost all of whom were Launchies.
Mazer and Graff's motives are better explained in the novel as well as why they feel the Formics are such a danger, having some basic understanding of their hive society. To paraphrase, "Don't apologize for them Ender, in the last war they killed millions of thinking, feelings individuals, while we only killed one of them."
Valentine and Peter's subplot where they become internet demagogues is completely cut, since it adds nothing to Ender's story, isn't truly necessary except as set-up for the Shadow sequels (and so could be retconned in if those sequels are made), and it'd seem unbelievable today that two "bloggers" could affect world politics so powerfully.
In the book, Ender leads his jeesh at the IF's asteroid base Eros, and after the war visits a former Formic colony where he finds a replica of the Mind Game's landscape. In the film, his base is on the former colony and the replicated game landscape is made to look like natural formations, likely so the IF wouldn't notice the resemblance.
The timeline of the war with the Formics is simplified. In the book there were two invasions, with the threat of a third invasion being a cover for humanity's retaliation. In the film there is only one invasion and retaliation.
Ramming Always Works: The footage repeatedly shown of Mazer Rackham's victory ends with ramming his F-35 into a Formic starship. This annoys Ender because he's sure there's got to be more to Rackham's victory than that. He's right. Rackham did only destroy one ship, but it was the ship he identified as the one carrying their queen. He also ejected and is still alive.
Reality Ensues: Winning the final test elicits a positive response from Ender and his companions. Realizing that they blew up a real planet and brought a species to extinction horrifies them.
Redshirt Army: Ender treats his forces this way in the final simulation battle, since he wants to destroy the Queen's ship, and orders his remaining ships to protect Petra's Wave Motion Gun ship until it could recharge to fire another shot.
The Reveal: Near the end of the film, after Ender's team defeats the Formic armada and destroys their homeworld. He then finds out that it wasn't a game at all, and both people and Formics died in the "simulations".
Role Ending Misdemeanor: Orson Scott Card's vocal cameo was removed from the final cut after threats to boycott the film followed anti-gay remarks he had made. Still didn't help its box office chances, though.
Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Graff, running out of time to pick a candidate for command, pits Ender's recently-formed Dragon Army team (ranked third) against the top two teams at once, on top of letting the opposing teams deploy before he's ever arrived. Ender takes it in stride.
After Bonzo is devastatingly injured by Ender, Major Anderson resigns, unable to tolerate Graff's extreme methods any longer.
Ender himself quits after that event. Graff uses Valentine to persuade him to come back.
Sequel Hook: Ender flying off into deep space with the last Formic queen. Amusingly, it complicates both of the Sequel Hooks found in the original series.
Shock and Awe: The Formics' point-defense weapons resemble electricity.
Show, Don't Tell: When Ender and the others are first sent into the zero-g room, he and Bean shoot each other with the guns to find out what it does. Petra also later shows him some of the basics of how to shoot during the matches, which allows him to formulate plans and strategies later on.
Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Ender's older brother Peter, a rather important character, is missing from the trailer (and only got one scene in the movie). Bean, major enough to get his own side-series, appears for only a few seconds in which his face isn't even shown. In story terms, his role as Ender's right-hand man is taken by Petra.
Sociopathic Hero/Sociopathic Soldier: Graff is less concerned with the well-being of his cadets than making sure that the human race survives against the Formics. Best expressed in this exchange:
Anderson: What will be left of the boy?
Graff: What does it matter if there's nothing left at all?
Spared by the Adaptation: Possibly Stilson and Bonzo, as (unlike in the book) the audience is never told outright that they died. In the book, Ender never found out that they died either, but Graff knew all along.
This Ain't Rocket Surgery: Played with; a teacher admonishes Ender's class because, aside from him and two others, they all failed a planetary slingshot quiz that is basic rocket science and thus should have been easy for them.
Mazer Rackham still being alive was kept secret until the last third of the book, but Ben Kingsley's participation is fully advertised. This is mitigated by Rackham being The Faceless up until his proper introduction, and never being addressed by his name in any of the trailers.
One of the TV spots, "Truth" shows Ender discovering the Hive Queen's cocoon.
The War to End All Wars: Deconstructed. Ender believes that the best way to end a conflict is to prevent all future conflict, making sure that his opponent never comes back to hurt him again, without necessarily implying his physical destruction. The fleet command harness and exploit that feeling and manipulate him into unwittingly eradicating an entire alien race, using "the war to end all wars" as a justification.
What the Hell, Hero?: Ender lashes out at Graff and other commanders of the fleet for using Earth's safety as a pretext for exterminating an entire species.
Why Isn't It Attacking?: The Formics have not attacked since their assault on Earth. This appears to be because of humans quarantining their world, but in fact the Formics have willingly retreated. Unfortunately, humanity has no idea that they don't intend to attack again. And, while they are building up a huge navy, this is very easily explained by the fact that mankind has blockaded their only system, where they will eventually starve, ruin the biosphere or otherwise be outcompeted. When your back is to the wall, wouldn't you try to fight your way out?
Averted from a literal standpoint. Ender does call it "genocide" in dialogue—even though Card already came up with a more accurate term, "xenocide"note "genocide" would be for extermination of an entire race, "xenocide" for the extermination of a species, and "Speaker for the Dead" was title-dropped by Rackham in reference to his tattoos.
You Are in Command Now: Ender is gradually promoted and given command of first his own army at the Battle School, and later command of Earth's forces in the battle simulations to help train him to become a capable military leader. He later learns that said simulations were actual Earth forces, and doesn't take it too well when he learns he committed genocide on an alien species.
Your Mom: Bean delivers an awesome zinger of this type at Bernard when asked how he got such good test scores.
Bernard: They probably cheated.
Bean: Your mom cheated; that's why you look like a plumber.
Zerg Rush: The Formics do this in their battles, attacking in huge numbers in an attempt to overwhelm them with their sheer numbers. It can be seen in the very first battle Earth has against the Formics, and again in the final simulation battle Ender plays with his teammates.