Asa Butterfield, as Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, puts in an Oscar-worthy performance as the driven protagonist, who’s known since birth that he was only brought into this world in order to fight the alien enemy. From the focus of a budding exceptional genius, he periodically crashes into the emotional fragility and dependence typical of any adolescent boy.
His focus is polished by the abrasive and haggard-looking Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), the training officer, whose utterly single-minded goal is to craft the best possible weapon to use against the alien enemy, with no mind to the cost in lives, minds, or souls.
Ben Kingsley, as Mazer Rackham, the man who became the great hero of the last war as much through luck as skill, and who tries to be the inscrutable master teacher, but does not entirely succeed at it.
The movie is set fifty years after the initial and devastating invasion of Earth by the Formics, insectoid aliens. After Rackham’s victory, they were driven off, and the forces of a united Earth have followed them into space, harrying them back to their homeworld. However, the mysterious aliens remain a formidable foe, and the Battle School training program, to which Ender aspires, exists to find the brightest and most flexible tactical minds among Earth’s youth, and prepare them to fight the next battles.
Contemporary CGI and other techniques combine to make the zero-G training room sequences—critical to the novel, a bit less so to the movie—believable and understandable. This is definitely one area where a three-dimensional visualization is an improvement over text alone. New imaginings of computer interfacings make the scenes of combat in space dynamic and dramatic, as well.
I found the emotional climax of the film for Ender to be satisfactory, for Graff, less so, although I believe that’s true of the novel also. I tend to have more sympathy for Graff, who’s lived with the war and fought a faceless and unhuman foe all his life, and who would understandably do anything to end it and make Earth safe.
As I said, fine, fine acting by Butterfield and by a talented and diverse cast of young people, plus the veterans. Good script adaptation, believable tech and effects and a generally good-looking film combine to make a very satisfying science fiction picture show.
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