‘Ender’s Game’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated November 9th, 2014 at 6:21 pm,

Enders Game Reviews starring Asa Butterfield Harrison Ford Viola Davis Ben Kingsley and Hailee Steinfeld 2013 Enders Game Review

It is an interesting and well-acted representation of a novel that has withstood the tests of time and changing paradigms with good reason.

In Ender’s Game we are transported into a future where mankind was nearly ravaged by a war with an alien species known as the Formics. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is a brilliant young cadet in the military’s child soldier program, wherein kids train to be the commanders and soldiers that will thwart the second coming of the Formics – an event that is rapidly approaching.

Upon entering his outer space “Battle School”, Ender finds he has been tapped by the gruff Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) as the chosen one who may save mankind. Of course this means that Ender’s life in school must be a grueling hell – being viewed as an outcast while simultaneously being pushed harder than any other cadet to achieve and excel beyond all measure. But the more Ender learns about what makes a great commander, the more he realizes that those same lessons are crafting him into the sort of person he never wanted to become.

Ben Kingsley and Harrison Ford in Enders Game Enders Game Review

Adapted from the seminal sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card – which predicted everything from modern military ethics to iPad technology – Ender’s Game the movie arrives on a tsunami of expectations, after decades of failed attempts to get it to the silver screen. But after all those attempts and all those years of expectations, the fact that the end result is a good, solid, sci-fi movie may be the most ironic thing of all.

Even before it was a reality, Card’s novel was constantly declared to be a project that would either be really great or really terrible as a movie. The book is such a serious philosophical and psychological character study, set within in an intelligently imagined future – featuring child characters no less – that the assumption was that done right, it would be deeply moving; done wrong, it would be a shallow and preachy example of political theater disguised as sci-fi. Well, director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) defied both sets of expectations and instead created something that falls squarely in the middle of the pool.

Enders Game Battle Room Zero Gravity Sequence Enders Game Review

The set design, tone and general directorial vision and execution of Ender’s Game is pretty good. Scott’s meticulously-built future arrives intact, looking quite colorful and epic (especially in IMAX), and Hood manages to create an atmosphere (no pun) in which this world of children truly feels as serious and intense as a world of elite adult soldiers. While some of the green-screen backgrounds and wire-work used to simulate zero gravity movement look a bit budgeted (hard act to follow, that Gravity flick…), in general, the sci-fi elements of the movie work well in creating an immersive and interesting world. The biggest thing that fans of the book will be wondering about are the infamous Battle Room sequences; though too few in number (when compared to the novel), those scenes are impressive realizations of Card’s words, and impressive movie sequences in their own right – as are later sequences involved with Ender’s more advanced “schooling.”

However, it does seem prudent to make this clear, early: Without the spot-on casting and performances by the talented cast, Ender’s Game would only be an “okay” movie in terms of direction and script quality. It’s really the cast that sells each scene and sequence, starting with another fantastic performance from Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin. Butterfield (from his very first scene) is able to contain the complex psychology and emotions of Ender within his big, baby-bird eyes, while totally selling the almost hinge-like turns where Ender goes from vulnerable child to stoic Napoleonic strategist to ruthless soldier (and vice versa).

Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield in Enders Game 2013 Enders Game Review

The rest of the child actors behind Butterfield – such as True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld – all do their characters justice and work well as an overall ensemble. Ford basically plays the sort of weary-eyed rascal you’d expect from Harrison Ford – but in this case, his trademark persona fits the bill. Heavy-hitters Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis are necessary anchors, taking some of the most expositive and heavy-handed passages from the book and endowing them with real organic emotion so that what would be pontification in another film plays like engaging philosophical dialogue in this one.

Take away the cast and their good work, and Hood’s screenplay is little more than a tightly condensed and rushed summary of Card’s novel. There is definite care taken with the selection of key scenes, and little homages tucked here and there for die-hard fans of the books to appreciate – but even looking at it purely as a film (forgetting the book for a second): it feels like things develop at an overly-rapid pace. The first ten minutes alone are a blur of what should be important orientation of both narrative and character, before we’re off to the land of set pieces and CGI awe, with some of the most important bits left to implication and inference.

Viola Davis in Enders Game Enders Game Review

At 114 minutes there are signs that even Hood knows there is opportunity (and actor ability) to dive deeper into what Card’s book and principal character are all about; however, blockbuster film conventions demand things keep moving. The ticking clock can practically be heard by the end, in which a longer epilogue of the book is packed-down and condensed nearly to suffocation. The debate about whether or not this property would’ve been best as a TV (mini-)series or film franchise will likely never end – but Hood does his best to trim smartly (and with room for later entries in the franchise) and most of the major plot beats play out well (again, thanks to the cast).

In the end, Ender’s Game is just… good. It’s not the most visually stunning, or brilliant sci-fi film of the year (there’s that Gravity movie again…) but it is an interesting and well-acted representation of a novel that has withstood the tests of time and changing paradigms with good reason. There might be some value in playing this game.

517887361 3 620 439 Enders Game Review

[poll id=”706″]


Ender’s Game is now in theaters. It is 114 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.

Want to hear the Screen Rant Editors discuss the film in detail? Check out our Ender’s Game episode of the Screen Rant Underground Podcast.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

Follow Kofi Outlaw on Twitter @ppnkof
Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. Good note on Oblivion which is probably still the most impressive sci-fi movie this year.

    • Oblivion was good stuff…more original in story than Gravity…not saying it was better or worse, I am saying one had a detailed story line and the other was a survival movie…both entertaining…IMHO…

  2. Kofi, your reviews and analysis of films have been very impressive to me. I love reading your stuff and we agree on many movies. But I am seriously shocked you think ‘Oblivion’ is the most impressive sci-fi film of the year! Personal opinion – one of the worst I saw this year.

    Still, great review!

    • Totally agree Oblivion was terrible in my opinion.

      • +1, Oblivion = unoriginal and predictable.

  3. Did you mean Gravity? not oblivion?

    • hahhahahahahaha – I meant to change that for sure. In my first draft I had forgotten Gravity was sci-fi.

      It’s corrected now :-)

      • Actually, Gravity is not sci-fi. It is a fictional disaster movie that happens to be set in space, but that doesn’t make it science-fiction. For it to be science-fiction it would have to deal with fictitious technology or fictitious developments in society, both of which doesn’t apply to Gravity. The technology in Gravity is not only quite real but also mostly obsolete by now.

        • Good call, on recognizing that aspect of Gravity. A lot of people think that any movie set in, or dealing with space makes a film Sf, which isn’t the case any more than any film shot in Texas being a Western.

  4. I read the book and it’s absoloutley fantastic, it’s all that a scifi should be and more. I’m super keen to watch the movie but I’m worried it’ll be a major disappointment, based on the book I reckon it should have been either a movie series or tv series, the book has enough content to create atleast two series in my belief. Starting with the very first year of battle school whilst ended is still a full child then graduall working up into the second season of Enders last months of battle school and his time at command school and his controversial ‘tests’
    Maybe one day aha

    • “I read the book and it’s absoloutley (sic) fantastic, it’s all that a scifi should be and more. ”

      You really should read more science fiction. Ender’s Game (the book) is pretty mundane for the genre to be honest. I still scratch my head in disbelief when people proclaim it the best science fiction book ever written.


      • It’s called an opinion. Maybe you should look that word up.

        • What? are you the only one allowed to have an opinion now?

      • The later books such as, “Speaker for the dead” etc… are a lot more interesting. “Enders Game” is a good launching pad though.

      • Dude, why the negativity? Ender’s Game may not be your favorite or the consensus greatest sci-fi novel ever, but it does fine as a representative of the genre’s positive points.

        It’s only mundane if it’s mundane to you.

  5. The follow up movie to this should follow Bean. That series of 4 books is awesome.

    • I totally agree, but you know Hollywood isn’t going there. If they do a sequel I would most definitely be Speaker for the Dead, or one of the sequels that deal with Ender specifically.

      It’s a shame though, I really liked Ender’s Shadow a lot.

  6. The key to watching a movie based on the book is to not expect the book, because there is no way it will live up to its printed counterpart. Even some movies that are regarded as pretty damn good – Jurassic Park and The Hunt for Red October to name a couple – do not even begin to do their books justice.

    I think the key here is to disassociate the movie from the book (if you can), and see how it does by itself. I would love to see a review from someone who 1. appreciates sci-fi but 2. has never read the book.

    • Really, I think the only way to do these books justice on film would have been to animate them. Unfortunately Hollywood only thinks animation is for kids, so all the themes would have been glossed over.

      I think animation would have been pretty much the only way to tell the story with the correct children’s ages. Animation gives you the freedom of having the children not age at all or age at whim. Ender could have started the movie much younger as he was in the book and grow over the course of six years. As Bean could have eventually overtaken all of the others in growth, from being the smallest to ulimately the largest.

      But as good as the books are, I don’t think the movies are going to be quite the hit they were hoping for. I can’t see them having “Twilight” or “Hunger Games” level of success with the audiences that the books were aimed at. I could bw wrong though.

      The whole movie just seemed to gloss over nearly everything. It’s weird. All the pieces were there, and yet, they weren’t.

  7. “Oblivion?” No way.

    “Gravity” is as much science fiction as it is science fact.

    Not only is it the best science fiction film of the past few years, it is one of the finest films ,in general , of the past few years. Period.

    Mr Outlaws’s assertions of a mediocre flick like “Oblivion” should remind us all (at least here on Screen Rant)that his views, often pointed, are still just “opinions.”

    • I thought there was something off. Mr Outlaws’s corrected update is noted.

      And appreciated.

      • I like Oblivion a lot. Just saying that I would not criticize anyone for invoking it as an example of a good film.

        • It is a very good movie. People just can’t get over Tom Cruise and it borrowing a few plot points here and there.

          • Yeah, it wasn’t very original. but it looked and sounded great. Whatever you think about Tom Cruise, I’ve never seen him be bad in anything TBH. He always delivers on screen.

  8. I saw this last night as I got these tickets from the radio. The movie was alright. The visuals was average and nothing special like a Gravity or a Pacific Rim. The storyline should have been pretty simple as it’s following the novel but even with that it felt like they “had to make it their own” type of movie. I went with a friend who was a huge fan of the novels and he was just disappointed with the entire movie. He said some things were changed from the novel to the movie and Butterfield just didn’t feel like he was trying to portray Ender Wiggins. I tend to agree with that. The only good thing that I saw was Ford’s performance. He made for a good Colonel Graff. Overall a good movie but if I were to have to pay to see this movie I would rather wait for the DVD. A 3/5 for me. Good movie but not good enough to warrant the ticket price

  9. Maybe its just me, but every time I look at the kid I see a miniature Sheldon Cooper…

    • …it’s you…

      • There was one part where I thought he looked like a young Benedict Cumberbatch.

  10. Great efforts. Ender’s Game isn’t just children’s fare. It raises a lot of pertinent social and corporeal issues that make you question the established order of things.

    • Had you bothered to read the book, you would totally facepalm. In fact, I don’t recommend the book to you now, since that will just make you feel so embarrassed by your post. Anyone reading your post will know that the idiocracy has arrived.

      And I don’t even think it was that great of a book.

      • I do not love the book, but I respect it as a story. Tom seems to have missed a lot of what the film was actually about, one way or another.

        Also, Tom, you enjoyed the Camel that much?

      • Peter. I don’t need to read a book about child abuse. The Formics never showed up in the film. The characters in the film were cold. I’m sorry dude, this film sucked. It was Starship Troopers with Kids.

        Another thing, I’ve seen thousands of films over my life of 65 years. I don’t need to read this book because I don’t like the premise.

        I never got around to reading Enders game because it’s for the kiddies like you. I was just killing some time that turned out to be a waste of time and $5. Don’t tell me idiocracy has arrived, when I actually took the time to answer your dribble of a response to me. It’s my opinion, which is what this board is all about.

        And to be sure the camel short was better than Enders Game

      • You have to also realize that a lot of people writing reviews about this particular film are surreptitiously writing anii-OSC reviews in disguise. Regardless of your opinions of the writer, the book has earned it’s place as an example of good Sf writing.

        For people who honestly have never read the book and don’t know anything about it, they must take into account that many aspects of good Sf have been forever borrowed and used in other films. John Carter had it been done in the 80’s when the first screenplays and pre-production work was leaked would have been considered groundbreaking today, but by the time it came out so many aspects of it had already been borrowed by so many other films it only seemed like a poorly executed clone. I’m sure Ender’s Game isn’t going to be quite that bad (I’m going to see it today), but the fact remains that how it looks has obviously been influenced by other films, as well as the current trend that big budget spectacle films can no longer take the time to establish characters and relationships, and have to get to the next “action set piece” as soon as possible.

        • It’s strange because OSC’d opinions on Homosexuality seem completely at odds with many of the themes of acceptence, love and diversity that the ender books promote. It’s hard to read the books and believe that his real life beliefs on certain subjects can be so strong and in conflict to the books.

          That’s why I won’t get on that OSC hate bandwagon. His books have a great message. I don’t care what his personal beliefs are because I haven’t go to listen to them. At least he doesn’t use his books as a soapbox to spout them from.

          • Mark Kermode reviewed this movie and said that OSC made some pretty ridiculous remarks recently but to ignore them before you see this movie.

            He also then said the movie was mediocre at best and a few more negative things but I can’t remember them because the review was several weeks ago and I’ve never really been interested in the books anyway so the film, less so.

    • -tom wow. U mustve been asleep during parrts of the movie. the first few lines during the start of the movie in the narrative tells u exactly who the formics were, which were the buggers if ur still wondering.

      when he says he understands his enemy enough to defeat them that he loves them is him basically putting himself in their shoes and determining what their motivation for their actions are and if they are ok with it then he is able to understand why they do it. So by being in their shoes if they are content and still love themselves for doing what they are doing then he can love them, but because he understands this he has to defeat them to stop further aggression.

      This story has a lot of philosophical points. if ur having trouble with this one stay away for speaker for the dead, the sequel book.

        • Guess u were asleep during the movie because they showed glimpses of what they look a few times and the buggers used the ships to invade they had no ground troops. And no s*** u old f**k its science fiction its not based on reality. Didnt the whole spaceships and child soldier program give that away.

          And as for the philosophical points I was referring to the book. Putting urself in Hitler’s shoes and not being to love him urself pretty much means u dont have a grasp of what ender meant. Its not only putting yourself in his shoes its understanding him, which is why its a powerful quote. no one wants to love and understand their enemy they just want to destroy them,which makes ender special because of his way of thinking. maybe ur too senileb o understand that because u think its a childrens book but even if it was critics and the awards he got for the book and its sequel tell us

        • *Posssible spoilers*

          One of the things the movie did right was show what little they did of the Buggers/Formics. That is exactly how it is in the book. The story isn’t about the fighting of the Formics, it’s about the manipulation of young minds in a tribal microcosm.

          The War with the Formics was 60 years earlier and was only referenced by heavily edited and censored footage of the event. You didn’t see the Formics because their story is not followed in the book. They basically retreated. It was the Humans that actively hunted them down even though they didn’t need to.

          • Exactly! thank u

    • You said “I don’t get it” a lot, sounds more like your issue than anything having to do with the movie. Which was good but not great (7 out of 10) A lot of people got it, maybe you should open your mind a bit more.

      P.s. what 65 year old man still uses “wtf” ?

  11. This is a book? Shouldn’t have told me, I can’t see it now without having reading read the book first…… To Amazon!!!

    • See the movie first, or don’t see it at all and just read the book. IMO

  12. This movie impressed me a lot. It was slow in some parts but overall was fantastic. It’s funny because before seeing the movie I read a review in another web page and it put this movie like a piece of crap. So my expectations were low but once I saw it I like a lot. That’s the thing with reviews… it is just some peoples opinions according to taste. I like the reviews on Screen Rant because I found them objective and instructive.

    • It’s not crap, but just not enough. I can’t really judge because I’ve read the book, so I can’t really look at the movie with fresh eyes.

  13. As A SERIOUS fan of the novel, I didn’t go into this movie with a lot of expectations. How surprised was I then when I walked out of the theater VERY satisfied with what I saw. Great movie IMHO. I want to see it again. Maybe next Friday after I see TTDW.

    As for “Best Sci-Fi Movie” this year – I would give it to Ender’s Game. Don’t get me wrong, Oblivion was good. But I liked EG better. And while Gravity was an EXCELLENT movie, IMO it’s not even close to being Sci-Fi. Calling it Science Fiction is a “stretch” to me. But that’s why opinions are wonderful.

  14. I read the book several times as a teenager, and always loved it. That being said, I did enjoy the movie. I thought that the zero-g games, and end ‘games’, weren’t long enough. Also, like the review said, it seems to move the story along too fast.

    (oh, and I really enjoyed Oblivion, and don’t really consider Gravity sci-fi)

  15. It definitely did feel rushed, but I still think they did a good job considering the amount of material there must have been in the novel.

  16. Overall, I was pretty impressed with this film, and enjoyed it. I have become increasingly skeptical of adaptions of books, but this one came across pretty well as a film. My father, who has never read the book, loved the film like crazy.

    I found the visual effects to be very good, certainly effective enough to immerse me in the story. So I would not say that they looked low-budget or anything like that.

    Good point made, though, that the actors sell this film. The script is fine and the visual design and music are good. But Asa Butterfield IMO does a terrific job translating the psychological layers of Ender. And Hailee Steinfeld, Abigal Breslin and the adults Ford, Davis and Kingsley…you can’t get much better a cast than that.

    In the end, I felt that the concept came across, which is to say that it works as more than just a pretty, action film. Gravity was a great experience, but I would give this the edge in non-visual content.

  17. The movie is pretty bad in my opinion. The dialogue was cheesy, over the top acting from asa – but I think that was more fault of the script than him. It all was rushed, there was now fluidity in the movie.

    I understand that for the sake of a new medium a novel will have to be reworked and changed. But the changes where so extreme, and this is coming from someone who rarely ever complains about book adaptions. It was just so overly reworked to the point that things that made since in the novel came off as completely stupid and irrational in the movie.

    • Yea I found some of the delivery of the exposition felt off and I would loved to see more of his genius in the battle school

  18. As a fan of the books since their release in 1985, I was very happy – overjoyed – with the movie. I always felt this a nearly unfilmable book, and the screenwriters, director, and actors all did a fantastic job bringing this complex, nuanced story to life.

    Of course, my opinion is only that, and I thought the Verhoeven move of “Dune” in 1986 was also fantastic (also having read and adored Frank Herbert’s classic).

    As good as Ender’s Game is, the sequel – Speaker for the Dead – is even better. It’s a very different story, and the prologue in the EG movie does appear to setup the story for Speaker for the Dead. I do hope they continue this series in movie format.

    Bonus comment: other classic SciFi novels I’d like to see attempted in a movie but are probably unfilmable: Ringworld, The Mote in God’s Eye, and Dragons Egg.

    • Great choices for other movies. But I agree they are probably to complex to film properly.

      I have always wanted to see Ringworld done as a film but there is so much about that book to include they would have to make it a trilogy to do it justice. And how to include all of the support info from related stories and novels set in Niven’s Known Space universe to help it make sense?

      • *too complex*

  19. I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I loved the philosophical points and the way battle school was portrayed… like others I think It felt rushed in comparison to the novel but that is expected considering the ground they covered in only two hours… great adaptation… most of this film was done exactly as I had imagined it myself.

  20. I had heard about the book but I didn’t know much about the story or the book. I went and saw the movie because I thought it looked interesting. I thought it was pretty good and was surprised at how much I liked it.

  21. I read “Enders Game” many years ago – I am an old fart – and OSC became my favorite author. I thought that the book was far too complex to be simplified into less than a “Lord of the Rings” treatment. That said, for what it is, the movie is an outstanding accomplishment. While it truncates so much of the character development of Ender, his siblings, battle school, and such, it does provide the highlights and enough substance to set forth all the major themes of the book. I admit, I had tears in my eyes at the end.

  22. Ender’s in Battle School training to fight the Buggers for most of the book. After he gets promoted to Command School, Ender starts a new set of training simulations to test his ability to lead fleets in war. During his final simulation, Ender sacrifices an entire fleet to defeat the enemy and destroy the alien homeworld. He thinks he’ll be expelled for breaking the rules of the game, but it turns out that no one cares. In fact, his teachers are all celebrating his victory because it was not really a simulation. Ender was really commanding an army, and he really committed xenocide.

  23. “debate about whether or not this property would’ve been best as a TV (mini-)series or film franchise will likely never end”
    Funny – of course it will End. And sooner than you think. In a few weeks this whole thin & interest in it will have dropped out of sight. Never to return (for the most part)

  24. I read the book and have to say this movie was awful. I was with three friends, one of which has also read it. The two who hadn’t read the book were confused throughout the film. They were just trying to hit the high points of the book while not developing any of them.

  25. Enough with “Gravity” already; it was good, not great, while I found “Ender’s Game” to be QUITE good, in fact better than expected. As always, I’d expect fans of the book to be disappointed with certain aspects of the film. If you’re going in objectively, however, or just taking into account that a lot of things are going to be handled differently or left out altogether when compared to the book I feel the film will be pretty satisfying to most sci-fi fans. It would’ve been nice to see more of the Formics, since bug-type aliens have always been a personal favorite of mine when it comes to alien races, but aside from that small omission this movie goer got his money’s worth.

  26. GAVIN freakin’ HOOD???

    The only guy to mangle an X-men movie beyond watch-ability??? (Let’s not mention his rape of Deadpool).

    GREAT novel.
    But for the film….
    …I found the director’s vision to be lacking, to be kind.