independent

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Gamers save mankind in slick sci-fi drama

Published 29/10/2013 | 11:44

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Hailee Steinfeld as Petra Arkanian and Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin in Ender's Game.

Parents who have spent countless hours admonishing their children for playing videogames rather than studying hard may want to give Ender's Game a wide berth. The unlikely heroes of Gavin Hood's slick sci-fi drama, who are feted to save mankind from alien invaders, aren't the brightest minds of the scientific community, who've pored over textbooks and deduced brilliant new theorems.

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No, the saviours of an imperilled human race are socially awkward and emotionally volatile teenagers, who display brilliant tactical minds while playing hour upon hour of state-of-the-art videogames.This generation of handheld and touchscreen champions are called into action after a hostile alien race called the Formics invades our home and is repelled at the last minute by International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Sir Ben Kingsley), who sacrifices his life to bring down the extra-terrestrial mothership.

The International Military prepares for the next attack by scouring the globe for the best young minds and bringing together raw recruits at Battle School where their talents can be honed.

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one hopeful, determined to succeed where his older brother Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) and sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) failed, and impress highly esteemed Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford).

'He's the one,' Graff tells second-in-command, Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), impressed by Ender's progress. 'That's what you said about his brother,' retorts Anderson warily.

At Battle School, Ender distinguishes himself and he is transferred to the Salamanders squad managed by a bully called Bonzo (Moises Arias), who won't allow anyone to outshine him in front of the colonel. Thankfully, Ender's kindness and selflessness wins many friends including Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), Bean (Aramis Knight) and Bernard (Conor Carroll).

Endless simulations sort the wheat from the chaff, hoping to identify one brilliant child capable of leading the resistance when the Formics return. Based on the books by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game is a stirring tale of heroism aimed at young adults, following the lead of The Hunger Games by casting award-winning actors in pivotal roles.

Butterfield, who impressed in Martin Scorsese's fantasy Hugo, demonstrates an impressive emotional range as a loner, desperate to justify his existence in a futuristic world where parents are only sanctioned to bear two children. 'I'm a third. I should never have been born,' he reflects tearfully.

The London-born actor galvanises winning screen chemistry with Oscar nominee Steinfeld while Ford barks and grimaces as a warmonger, who will sacrifice everything, including his charges, to quash the alien threat for good.

South African filmmaker Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) directs at a brisk pace, integrating a miasma of digital effects with the live action to ensure his sharp-shooting adventure packs plenty of thrills to complement the tears and heartbreak.

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