Friday, August 15, 2014

Ender's Game (2013)

You know, some people, when they try to justify why video games are good for them, they just make a long-winded self-important rant on Facebook, maybe complete with one of those greeting card memes. Well, the director of Wolverine: Origins (always a reliable pedigree) took that just a few steps further and made a multi-million dollar special effect jerk-off movie just to prove that. Wow. Couldn’t have just stuck to Facebook, huh?

Director: Gavin Hood
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford

Before I go any further, no, I haven’t read the book, and no, I’m not going to bother letting that ruin this review. Because this movie sucks. It’s a pretentious, bloated mess that thinks it’s way more than it is and I’m sick of it. I don’t see a point in beating around the bush. No...I just see a point in needlessly drawing this whole charade out with play-by-play descriptions of things I could sum up in a fourth of the time.


The movie begins in a fashion guaranteed to make me want to turn off any movie immediately - a goofy looking space battle like something out of a childish RPG, told in super-fast fashion with no room for drama or background story - but I guess those aren’t that important when you have SUPER COOL LASERS and shiiiiiiit!

Apparently this is a future world where the military relies on children to fight in the military for them. Why? Did Obama’s drone program just not work out so this was the most viable alternative?

Then we get main character Ender, played by Asa Butterfield. I know it’s tough on kid actors, 99% of the time because - let’s be frank here - nobody really knows how to fucking write kids anymore in movies. But this character is just bad. There’s no other word. The performance isn’t that much better - he’s constantly wooden and flat, with basically no emotion at all. Maybe it’s the way the character is supposed to be, I dunno, but as a way of trying to get us invested in the character, it failed for me.

Don't get me wrong; bullying sucks, but the way this kid acts is kinda asking for it a little bit.

His thing is, he gets picked on a lot by bullies! I can’t imagine why when he beats them in Battleship and then makes stiff, snobby sounding rants about it afterward that would make even the characters from the Big Bang Theory want to clobber him.

There’s also Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, whose performance in this movie makes Indiana Jones 4 look like an impassioned, devoted career performance done out of a love for the art of acting. He’s terrible in this. He never sounds like he gives a crap. But to be fair, how could you when you’re handed a character who has about half of one dimension - no personality save for monotone shouting and “rah rah” speeches. Like a high school football coach run through a Han Solo filter, then whitewashed out completely.

Let's be honest now; this is really just a warm-up for Star Wars VII.

Apparently Graff thinks Ender is some kind of prodigy to lead them in battle, or some shit like that. This is even more confirmed when he sees Ender fight a bunch of kids and nearly kill one of them:

The dead-eyed rage and lack of any compassion or humanity in this kid's face is clearly proof that he is a born leader and the only one who can save us all.
"I have a fossil and I'm not afraid to use it!"

But we see it runs in the family, though, as when he gets home he has to face an incredibly common aspect of sibling rivalry: where his douchebag of a brother makes him put on a goofy alien mask and fight him right there in the room. His brother gets him in a chokehold and nearly kills him. I sure am glad these kids’ parents keep such a close watch on them! Maybe in the future the dominant style of parenting is “out of sight, out of mind.”

I miss when kids just smoked crack after school. It wasn't good, but it was better than...whatever the hell THIS is.

Ender’s sister is also shown; a complete non-entity of a character who just exists to make Ender feel better about himself. Which I guess I can understand, as approximately 80% of the other characters in this fucking thing act unpleasant and rude to him for no damn reason other than “hey! We really need to show some conflict, but we forgot to make characters with any human traits at all! They’re just fuckin’ wooden planks! What should we do?” “Try just making them all shout at one another!” “GENIUS!”

I know I keep reinforcing how poor that kind of writing is in my reviews, but movies keep doing it to begin with. So I have no choice. The sister is maybe even more annoying, as they don't even try to make her have any emotion or character of her own. She just exists to comfort Ender; nothing else.

After dinner, Colonel Graff and his sidekick Major Anderson, played by Viola Davis, arrive at Ender’s house to tell him he’s perfect for their super-special military program because they saw him get in a few fights. His parents don’t seem to give two shits that he’s like 12 and not nearly emotionally developed yet to make such a drastic choice, and send him straight off to Space Military School!

They don’t even make it all the way there yet before the movie begins to indulge in its favorite pastime - telling the audience that Ender (and by extension the movie’s creators for putting him on screen) is the GREATEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD. And frankly even the sliced bread is beginning to pale in comparison!

Yes apparently the zero-G atmosphere in the space ship exists for no damned reason other than for Ender to make some asinine comment about how in space, there is no up or down because it’s all relative. Graff for some reason (I’m guessing all the space-weed he was hitting behind his trailer doors) thinks this is hilarious, and talks about how Ender is “the only one on the ship with a brain.”

"My happy pills are in my right breast pocket. I took a handful right before I came on scene for this shot!"

Gee. That’s pretty sad then, considering how the rest of these kids are also among the smartest in the fucking world. Are they just chopped liver now or something because the oh-so-great and powerful Ender is there? Or is this “military program” really the most desperate thing ever since that creepy guy on OkCupid messaging every girl who has a profile picture and working his way down to the hyper-Christian lady who’s married with five kids and yet still goes on OkCupid?

The space military camp scenes are pretty much no better: adults on ego power trips because their lives are fucking sad, shouting at a bunch of little kids, then Ender gets praised for being so different and cool and wonderful and Jesus-ish for no reason. Repeat until you vomit just like the kids did earlier in that zero gravity spaceship thing:

Ender's Game: it makes you vomit.

There’s also battle scenes in this training room place, where the kids wear ridiculous looking space-suits and float around shooting lasers at each other and stuff. My favorite of these scenes is the first one, where the kids are all horsing around shooting each other with stun guns and acting amazed when, BIG SHOCK, their limbs can’t move afterward:

The paraplegics in the audience are rolling in their chairs!

Then the control-freak Freud-bait adults come out and scream at them to stop playing around. I’m just so amazed these children acted like children when we gave them free reign in a battlefield with no rules! The scene ends with them being given some kind of game to play where they shoot each other with the stun guns … you know, exactly like what they were doing before you shouted at them to stop fucking around.

I’m just glad to see military camp hasn’t changed in the future; through a mix of intimidation from adults with self-esteem problems and bullying from other kids, cadets are turned into cold blooded killers. Great job!

There’s also this weird video game he keeps playing where he is a rat who has to run around in a post-apocalyptic landscape and choose cups of poison from an ugly giant:

Insert your own acid trip joke here. I'm too lazy to come up with one. In fact, all my jokes will be like this soon...I won't even write them anymore; I'll just continually ask you to insert your own. THE POWER OF LAZY PREVAILS!

I guess we do get a sort-of explanation from Graff - it’s supposed to “master his emotions” or something and reflect his emotional maturing. Graff is unhappy, though, when Ender’s psychotic brother shows up in the game, as it indicates his emotions are going a different way than what Graff wanted. You mean children who haven't fully developed emotionally yet are unpredictable? Color me shocked, Sherlock fucking Holmes. How’d you come up with THAT brilliant deduction?

Doesn't this poor fuck look like he could use a drink right about now? Somebody make that happen for him.

And again, maybe this whole “using kids for the military” thing ISN’T a good idea?!

Ender keeps on fighting battles, even assembling a team he thinks will do well, until it’s revealed that they WEREN’T really playing a game after all but actually fighting a war against these huge Mothra wannabes that Graff and the other adults have constantly called “the enemy.” Dun dun DUN!!!

So he just walks off the ship and immediately finds this thing right away and negotiates peace with it. How the fuck was there some kind of big war between these bugs and the humans anyway? Did anyone even consider any options beyond "BLOW THEM THE FUCK UP"? I mean it seems like they're pretty easy to get along with so long as you're not sticking guns in their faces or blowing up their home planet. So I guess it really just comes down to one ultimate truth: this whole thing was just another poorly written social commentary on how we act today. Snoooooooore.

Ender ends up leaving the space station and walking to the ship where the main Mothra-alien-thing is, and does the unthinkable by talking to the alien and finding out that all it wants is a place to live without the constant threat of human extermination. So Ender leaves with the alien to help it find a new place to nest its egg. Thus proving that he truly is the smartest and best human being ever in the history of creation, so you should get on your knees and alternatingly bow and suck off the film’s director, who clearly is the One True Messiah for bringing this story to the screen for us mere homo-sapiens to experience.

That’s a bit exaggerated, sure, but you get my point: this whole movie is just so self-involved, masturbatory and revelatory that it’s insufferable. It’s horrible! Every other line is just praising Ender for how Godlike he is and there’s no depth, complexity or humanity to his character. There’s just no sense of real struggle here - Ender is waaaay too perfect, constantly monotone and static, and seems to just exist so adults can point at him and go “Look how perfect this kid is!” He’s not a realistic or interesting character when there’s no sense of who he IS as a person. All you hear about him is what others think about him, and while that MIGHT be an interesting social commentary in a better film, the character isn’t compelling enough to glean much depth or subtlety out of that concept.

I can tell Asa Butterfield tried to bring the emotion out in the character, but the script handwaves away any kind of character development in favor of more “Look how great Ender is!” crap, over and over again. We get it. He’s the fucking Messiah. You can stop hammering that in with all the subtlety of a nuclear war now. It got old in the first ten minutes, and after that it’s so omnipresent and in-your-face that it becomes less a storytelling decision and more a proxy for the creators of the film to wax their own egos until they’re as shiny as a new Cadillac. By talking about how great Ender is, I never got the sense they were telling a story; rather just primping up their own egos for making this movie. It’s lazy, self-important, pretentious, pompous crap.

The rest of the movie isn’t any better - the action isn’t that good, I’m not a fan of the sci-fi aesthetics at all and the pace is either blitzkrieg-fast at the beginning or trudgingly slow for the other two acts. I never read the book, and I’m sure some people will try and tell me I missed the point, but this is just what I got from the film - an alternatingly boring and pretentious story made by people who just wanted to show off and talk about how great they are. If you got something else from it, that’s great, but I really didn’t, and even after seeing this thing twice now, I still couldn’t stay awake without forcing myself to.

So that’s where I stand on this. Just go watch The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire instead if you want a good YA movie.

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