In the near future, a hostile alien race has attacked Earth. If not for the legendary heroics of International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), all would have been lost. In preparation for the next attack, the highly esteemed Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and the International Military are training the best and brightest young children to find the future Mazer. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy, but strategically brilliant boy is pulled out of his school to join the elite.
The climactic battle scene that builds to a spectacular crescendo in Ender's Game is at least as thrilling as the overall visual splendor of Gravity. The difference is that Ender's Game makes its mark as an all-out science fiction extravaganza as opposed to Gravity's masterful attempt to reproduce science fact. The similarity is the photorealistic sensationalism that both movies deliver. Ender's Game revels in imaginary futurism full of gleaming spaceships, high-tech gadgetry, and a galactic war against an alien race that have a stunning reality of their own. It also tries hard to convey a soulful moral message. Based on the popular series of books by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game is aimed at the same young adult crowd that gobbled up franchises like Twilight and The Hunger Games, but it has plenty to satisfy older audiences too. Ender Wiggin is a pubescent genius selected for training in an elite battle school some 70 years after an apocalyptic global attack by the insectlike Formics that killed tens of millions. The Formics were defeated, but the threat of their return remains and it's up to children like Ender to become strategic commanders who will take up the mantle of defending Earth. The martial sensibility of a child army is crisp and believable in the scenes of boot camp on space stations and distant planet outposts. Asa Butterfield (Hugo) makes Ender the scrawny, brilliant misfit who really may be a savior to end the Formic threat forever. He's bullied and alienated, a theme that recurs throughout the story in many ways and comes full circle in the brutal, beautiful finale. His mentor and tormentor is Colonel Graff, the grizzled commander who believes Ender is "the one," but must hide some essential truths as a measure of control. Harrison Ford makes a bang-up return to stardom as Graff with barely dimmed wattage that pays more than a little homage to Han Solo. That Ender believes he's involved in an elaborate game gives a cruel irony to his training, his relationship with Graff, and his interaction with the large, highly capable multiethnic cast of kids that populate the movie (Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin are particularly good as Ender's best friend and beloved sister, respectively). For most people the dazzling CGI imagery will probably be the real star of the movie. Every aspect of the digital sorcery is immaculate. Standing on a command stage using gestural controls to fight the Formic army, Ender becomes literal conductor of a symphony of special effects in a conflict with echoes of the tribulations that have pretty much defined his young life. It's probably safe to assume that we'll see Ender again, which is an exciting prospect for his character and the constantly evolving science of moviemaking magic. --Ted Fry