Ender's Game is entertaining, but it does not surpass the quality viewers expect from a typical young adult adaptation. Its mediocrity is disappointing because fans have been waiting 28 years for a film version of Orson Scott Card's book of the same title.
Earth has been saved once before from the Formics, a mysterious alien race, but mankind must prepare when a second wave is anticipated. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a bright, young military strategist, is separated from his compassionate sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin), and recruited by Col. Graff (Harrison Ford) to prepare for war. Ender is a natural leader, and he quickly learns that the fate of Earth rests in his hands.
Rather than focusing on the moral issues of war, Gavin Hood, the writer and director of the film, disregards them as secondary material. The futuristic world Ender lives in is introduced poorly with a voiceover that explains decades of history, and most of the dialogue serves only to forward the plot and force-feed the viewer war themes without subtlety. Ender's friends have no motivations of their own, apparently only present for Ender's convenience.
The first half feels pretty rushed. Ender is viewed as a prodigy from the very beginning, and he never seems to be challenged by new obstacles. Because he never experiences significant failure, he is less relatable. Hood wastes too much time indulging in Ender's success at a training game the young soldiers play instead of exploring his internal struggle. Ender only experiences such growth after a climax that is brief and underwhelming.
Luckily, Butterfield is a strong actor and a charismatic kid, making it easier for the audience to root for Ender. His performance saves the film, and Breslin also delivers. In fact, all of the actors under the age of about 25 give strong performances. Meanwhile, veteran actors Ben Kingsley and Harrison Ford are restricted by roles that keep them from showcasing their talent.
As a director, Hood fails to bring anything fresh to the sci-fi genre and omits the darkness and grit of a good war film. A reoccurring aerial fight sequence and the large settings are filmed well, but the Formics are hardly shown, and their scarce screen time is a cop-out on Hood's part.
Ender's Game is not one of the worldwide phenomena series such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have become. The characters are not as memorable, and the story is nowhere near as intriguing. The film will be helped at the box office by some big names and a preexisting fan base, but it fails to live up to expectations.
Mark Mukerjee is a senior at King High.