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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Ender’s Game | Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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Ender’s Game | Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld | Review

In a future besieged by extra-terrestrial global attacks orchestrated by aliens called Formics (they’ve killed tens of millions of people, we’re told) Earth’s salvation is in the hands of…its youngest citizens.  Children are monitored and sent to Battle School if they display aptitude for the kind of warfare that they are instinctively prepared for and acclimated to through video games.

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is an extremely talented young strategist but somewhat of a misfit, able to cry and defend himself at the same time, conveying strength and determination behind deceptively innocent blue eyes and unerring logic.  He is tested and recruited by Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) for International Military Training, a tough boot camp, almost abusive in its treatment of the carefully selected youth, called Launchies, deemed to have potential leadership and tactical warfare skills.  They’d better have thick skin and steady hands, too.

Colonel Graff, with the aid of Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) follows Ender through his trials, sometimes intentionally setting him up for conflict to study his reactions and decision-making skills.  Ender’s video games are monitored as well, and one of them shows off his inventiveness while providing him with unique information about the Formics that he doesn’t fully grasp until a point of no return occurrence causes him to backtrack and research more deeply.

Ender misses his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) a grounding influence in his life, but finds a rare ally in fellow recruit Peta Arkanian (Hailee Steinfeld) as he engages in practice battles to prepare him for the eventual, apocalyptic clash with coalescing Formics.

Meeting Earth’s legendary hero in a previous Formic conflict, International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) gives Ender insight as he enters Command School, complete with his own team of young warriors to simulate his instinctive battle plans.  He’s only twelve, but suddenly the fate of the world rests upon his ability to form offensive strategies along with a weaponized group of kids.

Director Gavin Hood brings author/producer Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel to the screen with dazzling, pristine visuals, re-teaming with X-Men Origins: Wolverine cinematographer Donald McAlpine.

Butterfield’s cold but conflicted Ender is a boy with both a killer instinct and a conscience, grappling with morality, and mourning the necessity of brutality while excelling at its application.  Ford’s grim Graff can come off as one-note, but fits the humorless setting.  Davis’ female officer is more concerned with feelings, it seems, than logic, a stereotype but hey, at least she doesn’t have to cry this time.
Kingsley is always going to summon up the peace-seeking image of Gandhi despite Rackham’s Maori facial tattoos and ruthless manner, especially when presented sitting cross-legged in a meditative posture.  Oscar nominees Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld bookend Butterfield’s ambivalent Ender with subdued compassion that allows him a respite from his private and public battles.

The film’s ending is a bit rushed and surprisingly sentimental in an otherwise clinical space-scape, but the journey up to that point is austere, precise, synchronized, intelligent and not for crybabies.

Only Ender can pull off tears and still claim victory in this game.

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