Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ender's Game

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Be sure to play the video game tie-in; Ender's Game:  The Game.

Ender’s Game – 2 out of 5

When I first saw the trailer for Ender’s Game, I wasn’t sold. I decided this would be one I would pass on spending the small fortune it costs to see a movie in the theaters and just wait till I could see it for free (I wasn’t even going to spend the dollar it cost to rent it from RedBox but I’ll get to that reasoning later). After actually watching it, I don’t regret my decision. In fact, I could have easily waited much longer to see it. 

Sorry, Dr. Jones, you just weren't a high enough selling point.

I must warn you: Spoilers lay ahead, mate (read that sentence with a pirate accent).

The look of someone who just took off in a rocket and is questioning if he left the oven on or not.

In 2136, a young boy named Ender (Asa Butterfield) is picked to head to Battle School (an actual military school, not a cheap video game title) and is set to learn how to command a battle fleet. 50 years prior, Earth was invaded by a bug-like alien race but were, thankfully, driven away by the heroics of pilot Mazer Rackham. Now, the military takes young child with brilliant military minds and teaches them to focus those skills through rigorous game testing. Why do they start them young? Eh, the movie doesn’t really go into that but it’s sorta hinted that it’s a means to get them battle hard at an early age, utilize their imaginations and get them thinking outside of the box that older military leaders are trapped it (although, this plot device is still pointless to me but I’ll get to that later). After getting the attention of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), Ender is taken to a new level and begins training for the ultimate battle against the once-invading alien race. Only Ender is learning that all the games he’s playing in order to learn to be the chosen commander may have dire consequences…

When the aliens invaded, mankind was using fighter jets against them (one of them
piloted by Will Smith, no doubt)...
And fifty years later, we have these.  That's fucking progress!

I’ve never read Ender’s Game and, frankly, I’ve had no interest in reading it due to the fact that the author Orson Scott Card is a nubar. So, when the film came out, I had little to absolutely fuck-all interest in seeing it. In fact, Card’s psychotic beliefs about homosexuality being punishable by law, 9/11 was a good thing to happen to the country and the dozen other crazy things he’s said (which was kind enough to illustrate in list form!), I decided that if I ever watched it, it would have to be for free because I couldn’t see any of my money go to the guy who says fan fiction should never be done…unless he is doing it. However, that being said, I watched the film with as open of a mind as I could have and found just a lackluster, emotionless thrill ride that forgot its thrills.

Wow, how small is that one recruit?
Seriously!  Just how tiny is this guy?

Sad Harrison Ford is sad.
I’m just going to say it: Ender’s Game was boring to me. Sure, the special effects look great and a lot of the performances are amazing (especially when you consider most of the cast is children and it’s hard to find convincing kids) but the film has no emotion, no tension, no drama and there was nothing thrilling about it. Even when the movie offers up moments meant to be exciting or even joyous, the events that play out before you are less about the emotion of the characters and more about showcasing the film’s special effects. For example, when Ender is learning to be the great strategist that Graff thinks he’ll be, he’s playing a future version of freeze tag in a zero-g battle dome and, after winning against insurmountable odds, the revelry that should be exploding like a firework from Ender’s team comes off more like a minor spark from bug zapper. This should be a moment where you see the characters jump up and down (metaphorically, of course, they ARE in zero gravity) for excitement and the viewer should feel the excitement of victory but, what we get, is a little bit of momentous music and barely any single reaction shots…just a giant shot showing off the spectacle that is the special effects battle dome.

Screw emotion...we got awesome effects!

The "Ender eats a brownie" scene was incredible!
The entire film feels like it’s more worried about bringing the funk with the artificial stuff and thinks it can take it or leave it when it comes to the human/emotional part of the story. The only time I saw any real drama unfold with the characters was after the big reveal at the end (which was pretty predictable) and seeing how Ender reacts to it…and that was twenty minutes before the credits hit. The rest of the film is flat, dry and level-headed with its emotion and the only time you really see anything human-like in the characters is some drill sergeant yelling. That’s the most emotion you get (with the exception of a few “Ender is crying again” scenes).

Like all great military leaders, Ender cries like a bitch the moment something
falls apart...

Space travel looks so...comfortable.
As if the boring, thrill-less story wasn't enough, the big reveal just feels a tad silly and pretty superfluous. The book has been around long enough for enough people to know that the whole time they are training Ender with “games,” it is actually real life battles he’s fighting. And don’t “Spoiler Alert, Brah!” me because the book came out in the mid 80s and the poster for the film all but gives away the ending (it says right on the poster, "This is not a game."  Did the director need to stand next to it and yell at you, "He thinks he playing a game but he's really killing the enemy!").  There was no impact to the reveal and it leads to a even sillier ending that is just ridiculous with its logic if you think about it for a second (I'm suppose to believe the military promoted Ender and gave him a ship so he can fly around the universe with what was hailed as their enemy for the entire film?).

Now Ender heads to the Boss Level...taking on the Eye of Sauron!

The reason this reveal did little to thrill me is because Ender’s reckless battle techniques are nothing special other than the fact he is sacrificing the shit out of his fleet because he thinks it’s all a game. Then he goes on to win the war with a tactic that any adult military man could have done and the need to train children and have them do their dirty work is just left to the viewer to interpret their rationale. Honestly, Ender showed nothing special that ultimately justified subjecting children to this and even the way the war is actually fought could have been handled by an older individual.  Sure, the military can adapt them to command early and see battles from a different perspective that a kid may have but, ultimately, this dynamic just felt like a pointless plot device. I don’t know if the book goes into more detail and explains that, in the future, adult minds have been melted too badly by cell phones and reality TV to adequately command a fleet but the movie doesn’t really tell you why they need kids for any substantial reason and, in the end, I saw nothing about the whole experience that justified this element.  Realistically, it just felt like a bad plot device to try and make this generic sci-fi story feel less cookie-cutter.

Oh great, it's one of those Gladiator balls from the Mortal Kombat sequel that can
travel really quickly around the world.

Granted, the film makes some decent points about the morals of war, genocide and how children are being desensitized to violence but when these morals and ideas are pushed aside in favor of “cool looking aliens,” and big, realistic looking spaceships, it’s hard to see this film as anything but a shallow, popcorn sci-fi film. I don’t want to sound like I’m hating on the special effects or CGI in general because I’m not. Special effects are a big part of filmmaking nowadays and I am a big supporter of computer effects. However, just having really great special effects and making your film look like story and character are not as important as making a planet burn up hurts the film. Like I stated before, anytime this movie had moments that should have been monuments to the human spirit, the film wanted to make sure you knew they had killer effects. But did I really expect more from the guy who directed X-men Origins: Wolverine?

"Wanna see my tramp stamp?"

Ender’s Game could have been a decent, average sci-fi film for me thanks to great visuals, amazing special effects and great performances. However, the film’s story was so lethargic, I couldn’t invest myself in it and the film feels like having killer special effects is more important for a narrative than human emotion, drama, tension or suspense. Had the film been better, I might have been interested in reading the book by that crackpot Orson Scott Card—aw, who the fuck am I kidding? Even if the film was amazing, I still wouldn’t have spent my time reading his book because there’s no way that psycho is getting any of my money.  Was I bias towards the film because of Card's reputation?  Maybe but even if I knew nothing about him, I doubt I could have really seen anything more interesting in the film.

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