It’s been years since Harrison Ford starred in a meaningful sci-fi epic. But now the Oscar-nominated actor has returned to space for his new film Ender’s Game, where he plays a gruff and tough colonel, whose animosity towards an interplanetary enemy knows few bounds.
Ford lends this picture a credibility that could get potential viewers into the theater. Fortunately for him, the story stands up on its own as a thoughtful and beautiful-looking epic that never hesitates to mix great visual effects with powerful themes.
As the story begins, Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is the typical loner at school who feels like the world is against him. His older brother enjoys picking on him and his classmates like beating him up. But like other unique loners (such as Harry Potter and to a lesser extent, Carrie), Ender is special. He’s a brilliant strategist and an eager student who knows how to overcome his more powerful opponents. But not only is Ender special but his school is special as well. It’s a training school for cadets wanting to become military commanders who will, if necessary, be called upon to eliminate an intergalactic army known as the Formics, which look like a species of giant ants.
Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card (and adapted to the big screen by writer/director Gavin Hood), the story focuses on Ender as he trains to become a military leader like no other. Early on, Colonel Graff (Ford) and his lieutenant Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) spot talent in the young Ender, despite the fact that he has few friends to speak of. Actually, his lack of friends and loyalty is something that Graff views as an asset. “He must never believe anyone can help him,” he notes.
Ultimately, the solid story and the stirring visuals set the stage for something more powerful than a typical sci-fi drama. Throughout the proceedings, the characters speak about the cruelty of using children as soldiers in war and there’s some discussion about respecting one’s enemy so much that a kinship grows between two opponents.
Ender’s Game is a sci-fi drama that thematically speaks to the dangers of both war and the price of victory. It is a smart drama that casts Ford in a role defined by indifference, which is a pleasant departure from some of his more upbeat performances. Butterfield, as well, does an admirable job as the conflicted and thoughtful young leader who strives to win but questions the moral defeats that certain victories arrive with.
This summer Pacific Rim had the visual power to impress viewers but lacked the emotional intensity and provocative themes of Ender’s Game. Unlike some films that simply seek to entertain, this sci-fi drama attempts to make people think about larger issues of war and peace. It is a commendable drama and one hopes that it serves as the start of a franchise that further explores this visually-satisfying and thematically-powerful world.