"Ender? What kind of a name is that?" It's a question with the ring of a margin note, like the rest of this script. There's a boot camp for kids in the sky, and Harrison Ford (Colonel Graff) and Viola Davis (Major Anderson) occupy its panoptic center, but it feels more like the writers' room. When Anderson first meets Ender, she informs Graff "he has a complex response to authority. He doesn't want to displease the stern father figure [Graff]."
She has also installed a game on Ender's military-issue iPad called "Mind Game," for which she argues "we need a way to monitor his emotional state." Graff, true to his scarily on the nose role of Stern Father Figure, says "I don't care how he's feeling--I need to start toughening him up." He's doubly wrong: We do need a way to monitor Ender's emotional state.
Though he really just has two: aggression and remorse. The sibling psychodrama of this is skimmed over--he just makes one remark about how he has to "balance" the emotional excesses of his brother and sister (the brother is basically a sociopath, the sister has too much empathy). He seems awfully free of delusions about the difference between himself and his siblings. I shouldn't expect too much of this movie, but May We Be Forgiven does this better.
Anyway, he beats up bullies and then feels bad about it. When this pattern escalates to wiping out an entire alien species, he's devastated. Given the relative timeliness of the release (there are drone pilots and some heavily 9/11-flavored posters that say "never forget"), the horror of actually annihilating another race by preemptive strike is not a bad statement at all. But--maybe because this is a film with a cast of children, and the producers were therefore uncomfortable with anything too disturbing--the movie goes on to include the redemptive beginning of the next book, so that we might be released from the gravity of annihilating the other. Ender realizes that there's still an alien queen alive, and goes to find her. Whereupon he cries, and she caresses his tears. She bestows her only egg on him so that he can "travel the universe" on a heroic mission to find the egg a home. The story gets deprived of meaning because it all becomes merely something to provide meaning to his character.
On Downton Abbey a husband learns that his wife was raped and he assures her "no, no, you're more precious to me because of what has happened to you." It's not quite the same thing, but Ender's Game is at least half as gross. The important thing, apparently, isn't that an ethics includes others (as would be appropriate in a story that explores the nature of empathy), but the depth of feeling one has for their suffering. Ender is that bleeding heart who reads about starving children in Africa, feels terrible, and writes a check. The movie would have it that the problem with tyrants (like Graff) isn't the way they understand the world outside of themselves, but their heartlessness.
In other words, Ender is a subject of true feeling. I suppose this isn't a surprising way for a movie to humanize a character from a novel. I don't remember reading Ender being dependant on likeability. Granted, I don't remember the novel all that well, because I read it when I was a teenager. But I remember it being more disturbing. What happened at the school was far nastier than the fairly normal boarding school antics that made it to the movie, and Ender himself was nastier. At times I felt like I was watching an inspirational sports film. Hooray, Ender's team of misfits win through ingenuity, leadership, and team spirit! The only hint of Ender's intense ruthlessness here is when, confronted with the unwinnable Mind Game, he gnaws out the game proctor's eye socket. (He's a mouse, and the proctor is a computer construct.)
The adults are far less convincing than the children. Viola Davis seems bored. Ben Kingsley as Mysterious Guru is the worst. At least Harrison Ford has those wonderful ears, which preempt his face in expression.