Talking Movies

October 24, 2013

Ender’s Game

Wolverine director Gavin Hood redeems himself substantially with this sci-fi effort, but Ender’s Game, despite its celebrated source novel, is still some way from being a film that you simply must rush out to see.

Merlin_s_Asa_Butterfield_stars_in_first_Ender_s_Game_trailer

Ender (Asa Butterfield) is a twelve year old at space academy who shows such promise that Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) cuts him from the programme; to provoke a violent attack by a bully. Ender returns home to his empathetic sister (Abigail Breslin) and psychotic brother. However, his vicious response to bullying was what Graff hoped to see and Ender is dispatched to Battle-School to hone his potential to become the next Julius Caesar. There he quickly falls foul of his older classmates because of his superior intelligence. After clashing with his classmates, and commanding officer Bonzo (Moises Arias), Ender is given his own war game team. With new lieutenant Petra (Hailee Steinfeld) by his side he succeeds so well that he is promoted to the fleet’s command school bordering the planet of the Formics. The Formics were defeated decades before only by the sacrifice of legendary hero Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). But now their military capabilities have become threatening again…

This is a far slicker outing by writer/director Gavin Hood than his 2009 Wolverine muddle. The CGI work is unusually good, being very crisp looking so that the zero gravity war games are totally convincing. The script, however, is problematic. Far too many major characters are deeply unpleasant. There’s brutally abusive bullies at every level of education, an unhinged brother at home, and the voluble approval of ultraviolent tactics by Graff every step of the way. Hugo star Asa Butterfield’s blue eyes are as fetishised as Daniel Craig’s in Layer Cake, but there’s precious little emotion behind those deadened irises. Ender is a hero that it’s very hard to truly care about. True Grit’s Steinfeld is totally wasted (the script doesn’t ever bother introducing a structural romance with Ender), while Ford and Breslin are mere ciphers. Perhaps it’s not coincidence that the finale recalls The Matrix Reloaded in its subversion of action finales, as anything that recalls Reloaded is doomed.

But then Ender’s Game is a veritable echo chamber of influences. Mazer Rackham defeats the arthropod Formics with Independence Day’s finale. Except Orson Scott Card’s source novel predates it… And so it goes. Deja vu, all over again. How much influence did Card have on that other tale of adults forcing children to be violent, The Hunger Games? But then how much influence did Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers have on Card? Did Card influence Verhoeven’s subversive film of Heinlein’s bug-hunting? I spent far too much time trying to puzzle through the politics of the historical analogies employed by the film. The constant valorisation of ultra-violence as a strategy by Ender is quite troubling, and, I thought very Alexandrian, except that after therefore comparing the factions to Greeks and Persians throughout they turned out to be more Romans and Carthaginians. All of which is probably far too complex anyway given that Harrison Ford actually says Napoleon “conquered the known world.” Ahem…

The high concept of Ender’s Game; teenage children commanding an entire star-fleet while successful adult generals stand aside; never succeeds in making much sense, but despite a worryingly nasty streak it’s a solid movie.

3/5

Advertisements

April 29, 2009

Wolverine

After the fiasco that was X-3 it’s nice to report that Wolverine is a relatively inoffensive addition to the X-Men franchise, although well below the standard of X-Men never mind X-2.

The film opens brilliantly with a startling credits sequence in which Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and his brother Victor (Liev Schreiber) fight in the American army from the Civil War right up to Vietnam, taking full advantage of their healing abilities and animalistic claws and strength. However as Victor becomes psychotic Logan becomes disillusioned with their military mutant unit led by Major William Stryker (Danny Huston). Retreating to the wilds of Canada the film begins a heroic use of cliché above and beyond the call of duty as Logan becomes a lumberjack and settles down with his girlfriend Kayla. This will never do, we need to get our reluctant hero into the second act for action set-pieces, so insert the relevant names and events into this universally applicable Hollywood scene:

‘The Man’ arrives and urges ‘Our Hero’ to come back and do ‘That Thing’.

“No, I’ll never do ‘That Thing’. I’ve built ‘A New Life’ for myself here”

“This isn’t you, ‘Hero’, ‘That Thing’ is the real you. Forget our quarrel and think about the ‘Others in Peril’”.

“It’s your fault they’re in peril, ‘You fix it’”.

Exit ‘The Man’.

Then ‘Something Awful Happens’ and ‘Our Hero’ realises it was because he was being ‘Selfish’ so he joins ‘The Man’ to do…‘That Thing’.

It’s surprising that Gavin Hood, director of acclaimed South African drama Tsotsi, sacrifices depth for such clichés. There are times when this film resembles a bad episode of Smallville, especially a bizarre sequence that begins when Wolverine streaks in front of a truck driven by what appears to be Jonathan and Martha Kent. We’re introduced to a rake of characters who are killed off almost at random, but we don’t care about their deaths because the unwieldy cast is so badly under-used. Only Danny Huston, who delivers another charismatic turn as Stryker, manages to make an impression. Liev Schreiber is mis-cast as Victor, relying on a trench-coat to create menace when co-star Kevin Durand is the one with the appropriately intimidating physique, while Gambit’s long awaited appearance is tragically underwritten.

Wolverine has a number of amusing moments and clever references to the comics, and, of the two plot twists, the second is actually quite clever, but it’s too little too late and in any case is ruined by the ever audible creaking of the plot mechanics. Above all the film suffers from prequelitis. We know the characters that survive into the X-Men films which removes any tension from scenes involving them in peril. One lengthy and allegedly tense sequence already appeared in X-2 and as Logan and Victor are equally matched and can’t die anyway their various clashes are pointless. Unveiling Deadpool with minutes to go smacks of desperation (and is even more of a waste than Venom in Spider-Man 3) and his horrific appearance is dwarfed by a cameo which is either CGI enhanced make-up or total CGI but terrifyingly it’s hard to tell which…

Hugh Jackman whoops it up as Wolverine but truthfully comics great Mark Millar has written more interesting Wolverine stories than this in his sleep. A missed opportunity.

2.5/5

Blog at WordPress.com.