Home  >  Movies & TV  >  Movies & TV Reviews

Screen Shots

Taking aim at the best and worst of movies and television.

Movie review: ‘Ender’s Game’

Ender’s Game

Director: Gavin Hood

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley

Rated: PG-13 (some violence, sci-fi action, thematic material)

Running time: 114 min.


Posted 5:08pm on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013

In a future where families are encouraged not to overbreed, Ender Wiggin is “a third,” the third child born to his family. “An extra.”

Skinny and pale, he is bullied at school. But he’s been observed, singled out by the state. How he problem-solves during video games, how he copes with bullies — his cunning, ruthlessness and measured compassion — are assets.

“The world’s smartest children are our best hope,” military leaders tell each other. And Ender (Asa Butterfield) is such a “best hope,” chosen for Battle School, selected to be a leader because young adult fiction desperately needs another “chosen one.”

Ender’s Game, based on Orson Scott Card’s novel, is a glossy, humorless march through a future where kids are our best warriors, able to multitask combat duties and reason out strategies for battle success in an instant. Card’s military meritocracy, on the screen, plays like Starship Troopers without a tongue-in-cheek touch to its fascism, The Last Starfighter without the wit.

But in the hands of South African director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) the story’s moral quandary, about kids learning to kill before they learn compassion, stands front and center.

Ender’s Game follows Ender into Battle School, where his ability to master the skills of combat command are on display at every turn.

“We need a Julius Caesar, a Napoleon,” growls Col. Graff (Harrison Ford).

They’re all still children, argues the yin to his yang, Maj. Anderson (Viola Davis).

Indeed they are — martial, militaristic kids culled from the population, formed into teams and trained for battle in weightless simulations where they learn tactics that will serve them in Earth’s war for survival against the Formics, bug-eyed space-travelers who almost conquered Earth decades before.

Ender is not the heartless killer his older brother (Jimmy “Jax” Pinchak) is, not the empathetic pacifist his sister (Abigail Breslin) turned out to be. Threatened by a rival, he out-thinks, out-negotiates or outfights each one in his turn.

Butterfield ( Hugo) makes a fine all-business soldier-in-the-making, but barely suggests a mind that is broadening in spite of the narrow, kill-or-be-killed focus of his training. Moises Arias and Hailee Steinfeld are well-cast as part of this distinctly multicultural school of the best and the brightest, and the movie perks up quite a bit when Ben Kingsley shows up as that last-stage-in-training instructor.

But even taking into account the limitations of an “introduction to a franchise” film, Ender’s Game is pretty stiff. Shiny spaceships, vivid space battles (simulations for the trainees), kids who don’t quite fill out their jumpsuits and cool combat games are all fine. With all the bullying and kids-turned-into-killers stuff, the film never feels less than heavy-handed.

So sure, it’s good-looking, cautionary and clever enough. But there’s not much in this Game that you’d call thrilling or fun.

We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse, images, internet links or any device to draw undue attention. Our policy requires those wishing to post here to use their real identity.

Our commenting policy | Facebook commenting FAQ | Why Facebook?


Hey there. or join DFW.com. Your account. Log out.

Remember me




We now have a new, simpler way for you to enter and search for events, at listings.dfw.com. As always, when you submit an event to appear online, it will also be available for us in our print publication. But now you can simply enter your event and provide an email address, rather than creating a separate account and registering. Our new listings tool is still a work in progress, so we appreciate your patience as we fine-tune it. Please contact us at hsvokos@dfw.com if you have any questions or concerns.