Ender's Game: While I Liked It, I Didn't Love It

An "Ender's Game" Review by Ender News community member Len Maessen

First things first: Gavin Hood wasn't lying when he said he wanted to be faithful to the book. There is a lot of dialogue in this movie that's taken directly from the book and the storyline is left mostly intact, albeit with some cuts for time. I spent an awful lot of time going 'oooh!' whenever something familiar turned up, which is always fun.

That being said, while I liked it okay, I didn't love it. Most importantly, I walked out understanding exactly where the more negative reviews got their complaints from. The movie does have trouble making you sympathize with the characters, and there's a simple reason for that.

Book adaptations are tricky. You have to make a lot of choices about what to include and what to exclude. The problem with the Ender's Game movie is that it doesn't always seem to make these choices with a real vision in mind. Characters get introduced, then immediately forgotten, which makes those parts feel incohesive and pointless. Sometimes there are scenes from the book in there that honestly don't really add anything to the movie besides being scenes from the book - that's time they lost they could have spent putting in scenes that would humanize Ender.

Don't get me wrong. Asa Butterfield is amazing as Ender. He acts his ass off and manages it with great subtlety. The problem is largely with the material he's given. Outside of the ending (which is awesome), when Ender is really upset or worn down about something, we don't see it. Graff tells us it happens, or Petra steps in for an 'Are you okay?!', but we don't actually see Ender hurt, breaking down, having a moment to himself. At best, he gets angry, which isn't the same thing. Petra also shadows him for most of the movie, which turns 'we're isolating him!' into something else we never actually see. (As my friend said, "Wow, Ender is weirdly social butterfly-y in this movie.")

It's not a bad adaptation. It faithfully follows Ender's storyline. The battle room sequences look fantastic, though again, it doesn't feel like Hood always uses them to the best effect with respect to letting us learn something about the characters. The set design is also gorgeous and the space battles near the end sucked me right in-- they sometimes take a slightly different turn than in the book, but I don't feel it detracts from the movie in any way. I might have also cheered a little bit when we got the ending that we did, rather than some Hollywood version of it. The essential morality of the story is still intact, if a little less nuanced by necessity.

But by and large I'm kind of disappointed. The movie succeeds on a big sweeping level in telling Ender's story, but completely fails to capture the emotional and psychological subtleties of the book. And I just don't get the feeling that's because of a clever directorial decision to adhere to some idea of what the story should be; rather, the problem is that Hood doesn't seem to know exactly what B-plots outside of the overarching, action-fueled storyline he wants to tell too, so he just tosses pieces of all of them at us, ensuring we don't wind up engaged by any of them. Picking and choosing these plots better - and giving Ender a chance to actually be alone every now and again so we can slow down, reflect, and actually buy the isolation angle - might have gone a long way towards pushing this movie from 'okay' to 'great'.

On the bright side? It could have been a lot worse.

You can contact Len by email or leave a comment below.

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