The cheerleaders of today’s Geek Nation have managed to nudge gullible studio bosses into bankrolling flops like John Carter, but apparently, their work is not yet done. Director Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s popular, Hugo-winning 1985 sci-fi novel is yet another intriguing, complex and strangely unlikable big-budget experiment destined to thrill the book’s legion of fans—and confuse the rest of us.
The first half is crammed with ideas, as a near-future Earth has been invaded by insectlike aliens called Formics, and a 12-year-old strategic prodigy, Ender Wiggin (Hugo’s Asa Butterfield), is handpicked by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to lead our species’s military in the war against the evil extraterrestrials. The cast seems to be having fun, especially the wonderfully frosty Butterfield and Ford in gruff, enjoyably combative mode (what Ben Kingsley is doing as a Maori warrior with the weirdest accent imaginable is anyone’s guess). Then the actual human-versus-space-bugs war begins, and everything falters toward an unconvincingly upbeat coda. The film’s suggestion that violence influences and inspires children is both timely and provocative, but Hollywood, please: Stop blindly pandering to the YA and Comic Con crowds.