With an excellent cast lined up and some impressive visuals presented in the trailer, Ender's Game sounded like a film which was certainly worth viewing
It is clear that Ender's Game is adapted from a young adult novel because there are certain areas of the film in which is so obviously adheres to that kind of formula. It is hard to believe the story because the concept of children being trained to stand up for an intergalactic war is hard enough to believe on the surface, and yet director Gavin Hood manages to direct the film to less believability by being unable to give the film any more sophistication. During the first half of the film, Ender's Game attempts to set up its story and setting but remains dramatically uninvolving because it is hard to believe that children could really be trained for this kind of thing. Part of this issue comes from the fact that the cast seem a little too juvenile and inexperienced to be able to portray soldiers as well as the cast of Red Dawn did back in 1984 or the cast of Toy Soldiers could back in 1991. I'm usually a sucker for films about youth experiencing the hardships of war, and Toy Soldiers is the single greatest film I have ever seen. But Ender's Game misses the mark because it has children engaging in simulated battles and training exercises the entire film without really explaining much of the relevance of this. Films like Red Dawn or Toy Soldiers had a certain level of inspiring grasp to them, but Ender's Game does not have such a feeling.
The entire story in Ender's Game feels like the first half of a great war film, but considering that it spends the entire 114 minute running time building up to what a war film usually spends the first half of the film building up to, it feels like it has come up very short. The film is all about training soldiers, and an entire film like that seems as if it is building up to a climactic final battle which really shows the characters put themselves into the situation. All the characters are faced with proves to be more training, more situations where they engage in the game of war as they would entirely in a theoretical situation. The film does manage to lightly point out the difference of how a character handles the difference of a simulated battle from an actual ones. The main reason that I wanted to see Ender's Game was because I hoped it would have some entertaining science fiction battle moments, but the fact that they were played off as theoretical exercises made me wonder what the point of it all was. All in all, Ender's Game takes an excessively theoretical approach to dealing with the violent nature of its characters and handling of war, and so it ends up being a bit too shallow for its own good. Ender's Game neglects its potential to be deep and explore the complex concepts of its novel in favour of thin storytelling and a visual spectacle. The latter is a positive, but there is only so far that it can actually go.
Although Ender's Game does not feel like it is set in the future and neither does it seem as if the existence of human beings is under any form of threat, everything does at least look good. The setting for the story focuses in a space station setting which is built on powerful production design and convincing costumes as well as the fact that it is all captured with grand cinematography. And the visual effects of the film are pretty great because although there is a shortage of action, they do manage to produce some interesting action moments, particularly the simulated battle scenes towards the end of the movie. The detail to the design of the film is great, and although it isn't as exhilarating as other science fiction films and lacks a sense of adventure that is present in the more superior examples. Ender's Game does not capture much depth in its limited situation and seems like an overkill spending of $110 million, but it does manage to make itself a decent visual spectacle.
The cast of the film manage to give off a mixed response.
Despite the fact that I find Asa Butterfield to be a wonderful actor, Ender's Game is not a good medium for his acting talents. Asa Butterfield is unable to capture the appropriate emotional tension for that part. It seems like a challenge for him to be able to channel his emotions appropriately. He is able to deliver his lines with a confident understanding of what they mean and he does it with a certain powerful confidence, but I find it hard to believe that he really is Ender Wiggins. He doesn't seem to have the powerful confidence that Ender Wiggins has throughout the story and instead manages to convey a constant sense of reluctance in the part. Asa Butterfield is not up to being able to portray Ender Wiggins as the soldier he is, perhaps this is because he was only 16 at the time of the film's release and perhaps it is because he has not taken on many intense adult themed performances in the past. But either way, he does not get the part right. Asa Butterfield tries and his efforts are present in his understanding of the script, but his actual performance is lacking in the appropriate heart or understanding of insight to achieve what he should be.
Harrison Ford is decent. Although his performance is not perfect as all of the characters seem rather thinly sketched, his presence is welcomed considering he is one of the most iconic pieces of science fiction history for his role as Han Solo in the Star Wars saga. To see him back in science fiction again is exciting, and although the role of Colonel Hyrum Graff is not that much of an exciting one, he sinks into the profile easily. His line delivery is somewhat monotonous and the character seems really artificial, but Harrison Ford does what he can with it and ends up turning in a performance which is half decent at the least.
Hailee Steinfeld manages to turn in a good performance though. Working with a thin character. Haillee Steinfeld manages to turn in a performance which has her delivering her lines with understanding and strength to them as well as a genuine passion for the film. She stays dedicated the entire time and manages to act out the role of Petra Arkanian easily by really sinking herself into the universe of the film. The thin nature that her character is sketched in takes it toll on the overall effect of her performance, but most of the time Hailee Steinfeld is able to overshadow it with her natural acting charisma.
Ben Kingsley is also a genial presence.
So Ender's Game is a film which has some entertaining moments and some strong technical elements to it, but it is overshadowed by a lack of depth, shortage of action, exhilaration and thrills, a lack of consistency in the acting and the fact that it feels like the entire film is building up to a second act which never actually occurs.