Decades ago, Earth barely survived an attack from the insect-like Formics. Since then children have been trained to be the best fighters Earth can produce. A generation raised on video games are much better placed to process the large amount of information essential for modern warfare. Ender Wiggin is a skilled tactician who displays an amazing ability to understand his enemies. Hand-picked to enlist in the legendary Battle School, he must overcome the distrust of his peers and rise to the challenge of trying to defeat an enemy that no-one has ever been able to understand.

Ender’s Game (2013) – Director: Gavin Hood

movie poster for ender's game

Rating: 12A

Running Length: 114 mins

Starring: Asa Buttefield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfield

Genre: Science Fiction

REVIEW

Ender’s Game’ is a movie adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card (also incorporating elements from later novel, ‘Ender’s Shadow’). Breaking away from the recent Young Adult Fiction adaptation obsessions with love triangles and overly complicated set-ups, ‘Ender’s Game’ takes the time to revel in, and enjoy, a serious tale of war mongering – without ever becoming bogged down in its own concept.

The cast of young actors deliver solid and compelling performances. Particular praise must be given to Butterfield who has the difficult task of epitomising not only the focal point for the audience, but also a character on whom it dawns that the fate of humanity may rest on his rebellious shoulders. His scenes with Ford sparkle as they butt heads throughout: the clash of youth versus (jaded) experience being a constant theme throughout.

Ender’s Game’ could easily have degenerated into shallow set-pieces, especially given that much of the first half of the movie involves Ender having to rise to a variety of bullies, but the subtle direction and carefully considered pacing mean that, despite a lack of action, the audience remains riveted throughout. Much like Ender himself, the movie is intelligent, tactical, considered, and all the more fulfilling for its restraint. Gorgeous to look at, excellently acted, oozing with an ominous score, and cleverly scripted: ‘Ender’s Game’ is a mature movie experience that ticks all the boxes for those who enjoy solid characterisation in a coming of age story full of earth-shattering stakes.

IS ‘ENDER’S GAME’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?

Towards the beginning of the movie, Ender is a recruit in a military school and, because he is very talented, his superiors test his ability to face rejection by taking him off the programme. This process calls for him to have a chip on the back of his neck removed. He goes to a medical room and is told to lie on a bed where he is strapped down. He is clearly afraid of the procedure and the nurse tries to reassure him by saying ‘this won’t hurt a bit’. However, when the robotic tool reaches down and takes the chip out, Ender screams loudly in pain.

There are several bullies in the movie, all of whom mercilessly pick on Ender. The bullying is mostly physical and is quite violent each time. Ender is usually able to get the upper hand and at one point hits the bully around the head with a large stick. When the bully falls to the floor, he cuts himself on some glass and Ender kicks him several times before being interrupted and stopped. With another bully, Ender kicks him, pushing him back and causing him to hit his head hard on a raised ledge on the floor. The boy twitches a few times and is clearly badly hurt. This boy is given medical treatment but is sent home and it is unclear what happens to him; a short while later Ender tells another character that ‘he may never wake up’.

Some of the dialogue is a little harsh, especially as most of it comes from kids. One character says that he ‘should never have been born’. Another, who is called Bean, explains that he was born on the streets and ‘is not worth a bean’. When one character accuses Ender of cheating at one of the simulation games, another comments ‘your mother cheated, that’s why you look like a plumber’.

During his free time, Ender plays a game that he can control with his mind. The game is animated and his avatar is a small rat-like creature which comes across the imposing figure of a giant, scary looking man who is gaunt with long, straggly hair. He makes the rat choose from two containers of smoking liquid. Each time Ender makes a choice, the rat falls into poison, making it writhe and screech in pain. After a while, Ender makes the rat jump at the giant and it burrows into his eye. The giant shouts in pain and then falls to the floor, dead.

CAN I SEE A CLIP?

VERDICT

In a pleasing break from the norm, ‘Ender’s Game’ didn’t appear to feel the need to throw in any moments of gratuitous nudity, violence or cursing in order to ‘earn’ the 12A rating. The rating seems to simply reflect the adult tone of the concepts dealt with.

Whilst ‘Ender’s Game’ features a young cast that children should be able to identify with, the movie doesn’t rely on big action set-pieces in order to keep its audience hooked. Much of the film focuses on challenging authority and overcoming unlikely odds and there is therefore little in terms of actual unsuitable content. We feel this is a film that will appeal most to more mature children and so would recommend that it is appropriate for children aged 8 and above, although you may want to use your judgement as to whether an 8-year-old will be interested in a film with a serious tone and adult angle, such as this.

  • Violence:  2/5 (various scenes of bullying that result in punches and kicks. Minimal blood.)
  • Emotional Distress: 1/5
  • Fear Factor: 1/5
  • Sexual Content: 0/5       
  • Bad Language: 1/5 (mild infrequent cursing)
  • Dialogue: 3/5 (Ender struggles with the morality of his actions. Lots of threatening, dominating language from the bullying characters)
  • Other notes: Deals with themes of challenging authority, peer pressure, bullying, understanding your enemy, how to manipulate people to your ends and fulfilling your potential.

Words by Mike Record and Laura Record