Spoiler-free Review

Ender's Game

I liked Ender’s Game, but it’s a 5-star book compressed into a 3.5 star movie…

I’ll start with the bottom line first: I really enjoyed this movie, and thought it did the book justice. My primary complaint is that it felt rushed— the pacing was off, and it compressed time too much. Ender moves from raw cadet to seasoned leader in a blink of an eye. Timelines aren’t really shown in the movie, but you get the sense it was over the course of weeks or months, not years. This could have easily been two or maybe even three movies instead of cramming it into one— but barring that, they could have at least gone for three hours instead of two. I feel like slowing the pace a bit would have helped tell the story. None of the scenes themselves were problematic per se, but rather the lack of transition or indication of time passing between them.

Most (not all) of the delta from the book is in the form of omission. Given the time constraints, that’s not surprising. I do feel they hit most of the right beats and managed to pretty much keep the story intact.

The visuals, as expected, were pretty much flawless. The space sequences were broad in scope yet believable, and the insect-like swarming behavior, as well as the training and battle sequences, were exactly what I was hoping for.

Asa Butterfield’s Ender was surprisingly good. I was concerned when they went with someone so close to the character’s age because it’s difficult to capture the depth of the character and the degree of growth/change over the course of the movie. I’m not saying he captured Ender perfectly, but it was better than I expected (or could reasonably expect.) It’s tough to see a character you’re so invested in portrayed on screen— it’s never quite what your mind’s eye drew, but Butterfield gave a solid performance. However, I thought the young actress who played Petra was phenomenal. She did a great job. I really would have liked to have seen more of Bean, though. Honestly, it was refreshing to see kids played by kids instead of “young-looking 23 year olds.”

This was, by far, Harrison Ford’s best work in a couple decades. He was really in his element, and was a great Graff. And Kingsly, while more stoic than I viewed his character from the book as being, was excellent as expected.

I’m wondering if I would have enjoyed this movie as much if I hadn’t read the books. I fear it might have felt hollow and unsubstantial. They cut a lot to fit into a two hour movie, but it tracked closely enough to the book that your mind filled in the blanks without you even noticing. A single nod or line of dialog successfully represented a lot of depth that might not have been there if you weren’t familiar with what was left on the cutting room floor.

Several of the primary themes of this movie, and the central conflict of the third act, are far more relevant today than they were when these books were written… and they come through in full color. While I was left wanting more (an extra hour or an extra movie) I still felt like it was respectful to and representative of the original book I loved.

My wife Rachel pointed out that they snagged the first few pages from the second book to end the movie— I actually think this was a good creative choice. This was also the part that changed the most from the book, but I think that the venue change was a reasonable simplification, and the addition didn’t hurt things (though I fail to understand why they did it… I guess so there was a way to have more concrete communication.)

Bottom line, once again, I really enjoyed it. We’ll see it again and I expect to pick some stuff up I missed.