A Hit or Miss Sci-Fi Entry
JLFM - wrote on 11/03/13
"What?!" That was the first thought I had when the end credits started rolling for Ender's Game. This is partly due to the fact that the story is incomplete, and the film ends, essentially, with a cliffhanger. Some might say it's less a cliffhanger then a hook for a potential sequel, but the story is not wrapped up, so in my eyes, the film ends with a cliffhanger. In addition to this, the ending is just plain weird. I will avoid spoilers in this review (very difficult, considering many of my problems with the film revolve around the last 10 minutes or so), but let's just say that anyone that has not read the book (I am included in this demographic) will be baffled, confused, and decidedly weird-ed out.
The premise of Ender's Game, is that in the future, gifted children are to be enrolled a sort of military school, so that they can be trained to attack against an alien fleet that threatens the existence of the universe. An especially gifted young boy named Andrew "Ender" Wiggins is accepted into this school, and is the one that Colonel Graff believes will end this long-fought war.
It really is a shame that so much of Ender's Game doesn't work, because there is so much in this film that works really well. The acting is generally solid (though not without some less-than-superb performances, which I'll detail later), the visuals are good (and at some points, absolutely gorgeous), and the premise does have a lot of potential. I like the main character, Ender Wiggins, and I like the development in the relationships Ender makes throughout the movie.
Unfortunately, for every good thing there is in Ender's Game, there's at least one bad thing. The ending, for instance is a major issue. As I mentioned before, there will be no spoilers, though frankly, I have a lot of opinions about the last 10 minutes that would likely take at least 2 reviews to fully detail.
One (of several problems) with the ending is its big "twist." Maybe my expectations for this fabled twist were a little high. I was especially curious because many that had read the book complained that the twist was revealed in the trailers. The twist, in fact, is hardly a twist. It's hard to explain without giving anything away, but this twist- while not predictable- really isn't much of a shocker. I didn't see it coming, but I wasn't shocked, nor surprised. The twist just doesn't feel consequential, or meaningful, and there are a number of reasons I can think of as to why this might be, and how it could've been fixed- though I, of course, can't detail them without spoilers.
In addition to the ending, there are a significant number of scenes that just had a really awkward feel. That's really the best I can describe these scenes- awkward. Maybe once or twice, this was done intentionally, but I really do think most of these occurrences were completely unintentional, and it makes one feel a bit squeamish. Sometimes it's because of the dialogue, others because of the cinematography, but there are enough of these kinds of scenes that it's worth mentioning here.
Also disappointing is how little is done to enunciate this dark premise of children learning warfare to fight in a galactic battle. It's briefly touched upon, but this sort of controversial and thought provoking premise is given little in-depth discussion in the film. Movies like The Hunger Games have done an excellent job of properly displaying the darkness of its twisted premise, but Ender's Game makes almost no attempts to do so.
The acting, as I mentioned before, is generally solid, but not without mis-steps. Asa Butterfield is good in the role of Ender Wiggins, but I couldn't help but feel like this was a step back from his near flawless leading role in 2011's Hugo. Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff is solid, but his character is missing the wit, energy, and charm that we're so accustomed to seeing Ford deliver. Ben Kingsley's small role as Mazer Rackham is not without merit, though his makeup job is silly and distracting. Also notable for their good performances are Viola Davis, Nonso Anozie, Hailee Steinfield, and Abigail Breslin.
The films involvement with children, unfortunately, does lend itself to some expectedly bad "child performances," but for a film with this many kids, the acting is all right. The main problem here is Moisés Arias as Bonzo. In addition to being completely miscast, Arias just feels really off in his entire performance. He's really more laughable than menacing.
The score composed by Steve Jablonsky is simply atrocious. Offensively so, actually. The score for Ender's Game is, essentially, trailer music. In other words, it has loud percussion, far too much electronic influence, and no personality. It's completely anonymous sounding, and the gimmicky uses of viola and cello frustrate me. If trailer music is your thing, then you'll probably really like this score, but to me, it just sounds like stock music, and bad stock music at that. This score is especially disappointing when one considers that James Horner was initially attached to compose for this film before leaving the project. Surely even Horner at his absolute worst would've been a massive improvement over the drivel we have to suffer through here.
Ender's Game has a lot of problems (believe me, I've barely started to name them all), and the missed potential here is a bit crushing. But there is a lot that Ender's Game does right. I'll be honest, there were significant portions of the film that I found to be relatively gripping. If nothing else, I was hardly ever bored during Ender's Game (especially notable because of its near 2 hour length). Unfortunately, a terrible ending, less than intelligent handling of the premise, awkward scenes, and a horrendous score (among other problems) stop Ender's Game from being the enjoyable Sci-Fi entry it wants to become. Ender's Game obviously wants to start a franchise (and early box office numbers suggest this may happen), but there's going to have to be some significant changes made if it hopes to be a truly notable YA adaption.