An anti-bullying allegory writ on the largest possible scale, “Ender's Game” frames an interstellar battle between mankind and pushy ant-like aliens, called Formics, in which Earth's fate hinges on a tiny group of military cadets, most of whom haven't even hit puberty yet.
At face value, the film presents an electrifying star-wars scenario — that rare case where an epic space battle transpires entirely within the span of two hours — while at the same time managing to deliver a higher pedagogical message about tolerance, empathy and coping under pressure.
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.
Card's novel assumes a situation where, in the wake of a massive Formic attack, the world's children are somehow best suited to protect their planet from an imminent second strike.
The most promising young recruits train on elaborate videogame-like simulators while a pair of officers — Col. Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) — monitor their techniques in search of “the One,” a child with the strategic instincts to save his species.
The leading candidate is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a runt-like outsider whose behavior toward his aggressive classmates reveals his true potential.
Like “The Hunger Games,” the pic peddles the unseemly idea of watching kids thrust into life-and-death situations. Though they're not instructed to kill one another, these moppets' prime directive should also give parents pause, raising the stakes from hand-to-hand combat to the potential genocide of an unfamiliar race.
Fortunately, Hood (who also penned the adaptation) factors these weighty themes into the story without making them the primary focus.