Ender's Game Captures the Best of the Book, but Not Enough to Make It a Good Film (Non-Spoiler Film Review)

Ender's Game movie film poster

I never heard of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game as a kid. One of my friends tried to get me to read it in college, but with so many textbooks to digest I wasn't interested in any pleasure reading. I started reading sci-fi again in grad school because I welcomed the escape, however when I learned about Card's anti-LGBT views I pushed Ender's Game to the bottom of my reading list. I finally decided to read the novel last month because I can't call myself a science fiction psychologist if I haven't read one of the genre's most beloved novels.

The book's a great fast read. I can see why so many people like it. Anyone who’s felt excluded as a child (like I did) will immediately love Ender Wiggin. There’s also a lot of psychology in Ender's Game. I can’t do the book justice in a non-spoiler review of the film, but I will allude to some of my favorite psychological ideas from the book:

The book also brings up interesting questions about using video games to recruit soldiers (something we do now), drone warfare and its impact on pilots (drone pilots struggle just as much as combat pilots), and the ethics of preemptive strikes (like the Iraq war).

Battle School in  Ender's Game  .

Battle School in Ender's Game .

Most of these ideas are brought to life in the big screen adaption. The film does this with an impressively diverse cast, smooth aesthetic, and cool technology.  

This isn't enough to make Ender's Game a good movie though. The book explores the humanity of the kids – Ender's empathy, his sister's compassion, and his brother's callousness. These themes never get fleshed out in the film. Besides a bully, everyone in Battle School is pretty much the same disposable kid. Gone is the book's bathroom humor, which made the kids sound like kids. I enjoyed the book but didn’t care for the people in this film. This is a huge bummer since the cast is very talented and could have done so much more with these roles.

Despite the cast's credentials, the characters don't have much emotional depth.

Despite the cast's credentials, the characters don't have much emotional depth.

In addition to the boring characters, there’re also technical problems with Ender’s Game. Things happen way too quickly, especially at the end. If you haven't read the book, you'll probably leave the theater confused or unsatisfied. I also had a hard time believing the film's zero gravity scenes, but that's probably because Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity spoiled me.

Who should see the film? Fans of the book and anyone who enjoys sci-fi set in space. Otherwise, save your money and wait for Thor: The Dark World or Hunger Games: Catching Fire instead.

Rating: 6.5/10

For a much more positive review of Ender's Game, check out the LA Times. I agreed most with AV Club's review of the film.