Reviews: Enders Game

Good Film Burdened By Unanswered Questions And Mary Tzu

Ender's game is a smart sci-fi film, exploring the journey of the eponymous Ender as he is chosen as a candidate for Battle School, a space station where humanity is training a new generation of soldiers and generals to fight in a Bug War, having been inspired by a hero who rammed his jet plane into an alien spaceship and won a battle (somehow). Simple.

The special effects are good. The zero-gravity fights scenes are spectacularly immersive, and the characterization is generally well done. The acting is taken seriously, even among the children, and the premise was original and interesting.

It was a good film overall, but what makes me unwanting to see it again are two plot holes and a Pet Peeve Trope. The PPT is Mary Tzu. Ender always dishes out a Curb-Stomp Battle with his team of underdogs, even when outnumbered 2-1 by an experienced and skilled enemy that has set up good defensive positions.

First, how does the famous person lead to the Battle School program? The line of logic the film presents is "Man's suicide attack in an airplane is successful" equals "a kid will become a military genius and lead us to victory, and we will train him through zero gravity laser tag". Maybe the book explains it, but there seems to be some steps missing. Also, why a kid (especially when the famous hero was an adult)? Why laser tag (see below)? Why put all your faith in a single, new commander when you have a committee of seasoned veterans already at your disposal? You're telling me that a teenager with natural talent is a better choice than people who have dedicated their lives to waging war?

Second, how does the Battle School program actually work? You train your army and commanders with laser tag (as opposed to study of past battles or practicing maneuvers with thousands of soldiers and vehicles)? Granted, there are probably other things, but from what we see, the Battle School lives up to its initials. I know Ender is a genius in that arena as previously mentioned, but what would Ender do without the OP Wave Motion Gun he had in the climax? Ender's victories in the arena rely on, say it with me, cheap tactics. Ender's victories outside the arena are just protecting a superweapon until it recharges. Napoleon and Grant were real military geniuses; no battle of theirs was won by turtling around a Game Breaker until it was ready to fire.

A Long Wait, But Not Long Enough

Ender's Game is the long-awaited film adaptation of the sci-fi classic of the same title. Ironically, the film itself would have greatly benefited from being longer. With a two-hour run time, Ender's Game manages to pack in a faithful adaptation of the book's events, but it looses the book's heart in the process.

Adaptation Distillation is inevitable when filming a story as deep as the original Ender's Game, and choices like including Bean in Ender's launch group, skipping his time in Rat Army, and cutting his sibling's blogging subplot altogether make sense. However, even with these cuts and rearrangements, two hours is not enough time to tell the story adequately. Details of the setting, science, and logistics of the war are simplified or skipped over; most notably the issue of long distance space travel, which leaves a minor plot hole as to why Ender's training has a deadline. Worse, with the exception of Petra, the other children in Ender's command cadre are almost devoid of characterization or interaction with Ender, making them only distinguishable physically.

Ender's character suffers as well. His tactical genius is largely an Informed Ability due to the film only portraying his first and final battle games, thereby skipping his growth as a leader and tactician, and making him appear to have simply arrived at the school perfect. This is only worsened by there being very little sense of how much time has passed between any given event in the movie, making it seem as if the entire film took place in a week instead of years. Ender's emotional journey, which was arguably the true main conflict of the book, is only lightly touched upon a handful of times. This is most evident in the final act of the film, when the spectacle of grand space battles becomes the focus instead of the breakdown-inducing mental stress of Command School on the kids, and Ender's disillusionment with the entire war in particular.

What it comes down to is that Ender's Game is simply too short for the story it needed to tell. Even another half hour (or better yet a full one) at Battle School could have given the story the breathing room it needed. As is, nothing is allowed the time necessary to give it the emotional weight needed to drive the story home, and in the end, it turns out as just a sci-fi action film.