“Ender’s Game,” the long-gestating adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s science-fiction novel, hits theaters this Friday and the majority of critics claim the finished product was worth the wait.
The film stars Asa Butterfield of “Hugo” fame as a brilliant teenage recruit tasked with defeating a possible alien invasion and Harrison Ford as the gruff commanding officer who whips him into shape.
The big-budget production is looking like a box-office underperformer, but a number of reviewers found the film to be the rare special-effects driven film that combines visual pyrotechnics with heart, giving it a solid 69 percent “fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes.
In TheWrap, Todd Gilchrist praised the performances of Ford and Butterfield and a topical plot that contains allusions to the efficacy of pre-emptive military strikes.
“Bolstered by solid performances and a clean, elegant visual style, [director Gavin] Hood ultimately delivers a film that actually earns the distinction of being for audiences of all ages,” Gilchrist wrote. “But he accomplishes this insurmountable task not by successfully tapping into his adult viewers’ inner children but by appealing to children’s inner adults — not quite asking them to grow up, but just begin to consider the more complicated world that lurks out on the horizon.”
Fans of the novel rejoice, the San Jose Mercury News critic Tony Hicks enthused, “Ender’s Game” is complex and emotionally satisfying. He saved particular praise for Digital Domain, the visual effects company that not only created the scenes of space combat, but invested in the project as well.
“The Battle School scenes, where ‘armies’ of trainees square off in zero gravity, are simply riveting (I can’t wait to see the video games this movie spawns),” Hicks wrote. “Where some films spend too much time with computer-generated graphics, ‘Ender’s Game’ gives you just enough, and they get better as the film goes on.”
In Variety, Peter Debruge argued that the movie worked both as a grand IMAX-style entertainment and as an anti-bullying allegory. That latter point is ironic given Card’s well-documented views on same-sex marriage and homosexuality.
“Against considerable odds, this risky-sounding Orson Scott Card adaptation actually works, as director Gavin Hood pulls off the sort of teen-targeted franchise starter Summit was hoping for,” Debruge wrote.
Time Out’s Tom Huddleston offered a more nuanced appraisal, noting that there are moments of excitement that never quite cohere into a compelling whole. He also poured cold water on the picture’s commercial prospects, likening the impulse to adapt Card’s novel to Disney’s decision to greenlight the notorious bomb “John Carter.”
“The cast are strong, the effects well designed, and the script’s interest in how violence influences and inspires children is timely and insightful. But it falters once the actual war begins,” Huddleston wrote.
That constituted a rave when measured again Film.com’s assessment. In a largely negative review, Eric D. Snider griped that the film is slickly made but overly harried. It could stand to take a breath between plot developments, he argued.
“By all appearances, this should be an excellent sci-fi adventure,” Snider wrote. “But Hood keeps such a steady, unvaried pace that the revelations of the final act — which should be HUGE — have the same dramatic heft as everything else. And when everything weighs the same, nothing weighs anything.”