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Ender's Game - The Review

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I try not to play video games when my wife is in the room because she's not a gamer and I know how bored she gets watching me building bases and zapping CG aliens.
And that's the problem with Ender's Game, the new sci-fi adventure based on the novel by controversial author Orson Scott Card.

For the most part it's a slick, intelligent and mostly compelling yarn, a mash-up of Wargames, Tron, Starship Troopers and assorted other sci-fi adventures.

Asa Butterfield is superb as the eponymous young hero, and director Gavin Hood surrounds him with a worthy supporting cast, including Viola Davis and tattoo-faced Ben Kingsley.
(It's a lot more rewarding than Hood's previous fantasy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

Arguably the weakest link is Harrison Ford as gruff seasoned military man, Hyrum Graff.
He sounds laboured as he reads the dialogue, like he has little faith in the material, or is wondering what time he can wrap up shooting so he can have his dinner.
Yes, he probably had the same demeanour shooting Star Wars in the mid 1970s, but here he lacks the charisma of Han Solo.

The problem is for the most part you're watching someone else playing a game. There's a disconnect between the audience and the key protagonists, especially Ford, who is usually seen through windows or behind desks. There's a barrier between him and us which rarely lowers.

In a previous blog I remarked that Ford hadn't made a good film in 20 years, and while Ender's Game is far from a disaster, it's also not the winning mix of Harry Potter and Star Wars that the ad campaign suggests.

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Ender's Game image: Chartoff Productions/Taleswapper/OddLot Entertainment/K/O Paper Products/Digital Domain/Distributed by Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

I was impressed by the bulk of the movie. It was smart and treated the audience with a degree of intelligence; surreal moments involving a game were suitably dreamy and nightmarish, but as the film built to its finale I didn't know if I was watching a simulated battle or the real thing.
And the finale is stunning to look at; a flurry of spaceships swarming like fish engage the eye as the young warriors build to an edge-of-the-seat, do-or-die climax.

But the last few minutes are disappointing. A personal bugbear, the hero's name being repeated constantly by a character, set my teeth on edge, while the open-ended conclusion is clearly set up for a sequel that I fear may never happen.

I enjoyed this far more than most Potter films, but I doubt Ender will engage the audience enough to return to your local multiplex in a couple of years.

I hope I'm wrong as I'd love to see the hero actually physically tackle some alien bad guys instead of orchestrating their destruction from behind a computer screen.