Film review: Ender's Game (12A)
IN A NUTSHELL
More intelligent than your average glossy shoot-em-up, Ender's Game has an earnest undercurrent
"Harry Potter meets Star Wars," growls the TV ads for the eagerly-awaited adaptation of Orson Scott Card's ahead-of-its-time and controversial sci-fi novel for youngsters.
"Harry Potter meets Schindler's List" is what occurred to me as the teeny tiny hero looks to command the forces of the Earth and inflict a devastating genocide upon our sworn, and swarming, enemies - the wasp-like Formics.
A considerable freight, then, to place on the acting shoulders of gangly Asa Butterfield who plays shy outsider Ender Wiggin.
However, as the Londoner showed in Hugo, he has the emotional maturity to take Ender on his journey from bullied genius to military overlord without losing pace or, crucially, empathy.
He is assisted by a strong cast that was always likely to be outdone by sprawling and mesmeric digital effects overseen by director Gavin Hood.
No better space veteran than Harrison Ford as bluff Colonel Graff, who goads and teases in X-Factor mode to test Ender for psychological weaknesses.
Meanwhile maternal Major Anderson (Viola Davis) picks up the pieces and questions the ethics of turning kids into killing machines.
Children, you see, are better equipped to handle the mass of data arising from the splendidly epic space battles.
So they are recruited and sent to off-planet training where, in the gravity-free Battle Room, strategy, courage and leadership are ingrained.
The aim is to deliver a final knock-out blow to the Formics and release Earth from the grip of terror.
And while Ender is "the one", combining a preternatural grasp of strategy with a side order of psycho, he also begins to question the morality of his work and, more prosaically, miss home and sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin).
The film's provenance as a much-loved novel for young adults is plain.
The challenging themes are handled adroitly and intelligently while subplots that occupied chapters in the book are suggested and then, frustratingly, forgotten.
This is no easy ride for its target audience, with the dispassionate gloss of video game violence tangled with meatier themes of "my country right or wrong".
But it is an eye-popping smart bomb of a movie, timely and, perhaps, important.