I have just returned from seeing Ender’s Game in theatres and I wanted to write this review as fast as possible for those out there wondering what could have possibly happened. This movie touches so many of us truly to our core. Readers of this series who see the poetry that is Ender and the cruelty that is his life. We know there are many sides to any situation, we know that other sentient species can be framlings, utlanning, ramen and yes, varelse. We know that the Formic Wars were fought against the Buggers, not against the Formics, but whatever I guess. What I’m trying to tell you, those who have not taken the journey to the stars in words, is that we already love this and we did not need the help you will need to see its beauty. And I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry I cannot access the world by ansible to tell you to stop and to read Ender’s life before you see it. Watch the movie that is the book. Love him first. Then meet him, because otherwise you’ll fall into the trap laid out by metacritic giving this movie a 51/100 and you’ll agree and you will hate everything we love.
Back to the basics. This movie stars Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin, the protagonist (and antagonist) of his own life story and the life story of every other human that lived while he lived. Now, this is not Asa Butterfield’s first rodeo. He’s been in really notable roles before such as Hugo from Hugo, Mordred from the popular British series Merlin, Bruno from The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and several other very noteworthy roles. Asa Butterfield is essentially the opposite of a nobody and will likely be someone to keep an eye on with three or four starring roles already and two title roles. That’s big, this kid is no joke. Other noteworthy players are Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham, Abigail Breslin as Valentine Wiggin. Some others to note are Hailee Steinfield as Petra known for roles like the lead in True Grit alongside Jeff Bridges and Juliet in the new Romeo and Juliet movie. I could go on, but at this point it’s just good to know that the cast is filled with people who have been around the block a time or two.
This story is simple and wonderfully complex at the same time. Ender Wiggin is a rare occurrence, a third child in a future Earth that normally only allows families to have two children. He is mature well beyond his years and is a candidate for the military battle school training young commanders to fight in a war against an alien species known in the movie as the Formics. They are bug-like and massive in number and we defeated them once prior, but other than that we know very little. Ender’s story is a hurdles race. Adeptly trying to avoid and dodge obstacles in a game whose rules are constantly changing. In war there are no children, there are only soldiers.
Now here’s the actual review. I truly loved this. I thought Asa played a fantastic Ender. I found myself raging against Graff’s harsh treatment of the children as show ponies and empathizing with Anderson. I saw Peter as a monster and Valentine as an angel. But I realized sitting next to my good friend who had not read the books, that he did not feel any of this. The subtle beauty was gone. For him, it was looking through a window, but for me it was a telescope. Without the foundation there was nothing to see, just what was there whereas I saw so far beyond what was in front of me. It shouldn’t be that way. It should have been richer, perhaps focusing more somehow on the Formics and where they came from. Perhaps enriching the direction to show the brutal cruelty that was being in Bonzo’s army or being cut off from Ender’s family. Perhaps somehow showing the politics of the world they were trying to save by not ruthlessly leaving Demostenes and Locke on the cutting room floor. I honestly don’t know. I can’t know. I can’t tell you what this movie was missing because for me it was a complete and beautiful puzzle, but for those who had not read it it was a miserable failure to communicate necessary information.
So I am truly at a loss. I am an unreliable narrator. I am Holden Caulfield and Huck FInn and I honestly cannot say I’m sorry enough. I have no way to guide you in this one, but only to say that the vast differences in experiences leads me to tell you to please read the book first if you want to enjoy it. And if you don’t, then I hope you can enjoy what you see regardless.