Nov. 2, 2013 at 7:36 AM ET
(Warning: Spoilers for "Ender's Game" follow.) "Ender's Game" comes to theaters with a lot of baggage. There's the normal pressure any beloved book falls under when it becomes a movie -- will the characters and plot please those who've already imagined them in their minds? "Ender's Game" brought with it some issues of its own, as author Orson Scott Card has come under fire for his statements about homosexuality and gay marriage, with some even vowing to boycott the film.
But should those who aren't familiar with the book, or with Card, spend their money on a ticket? Our take: it depends how enraptured you are with the space genre. The film is enjoyable, if not all that memorable. But as Box Office Mojo points out, "Ender's Game" hasn't done the greatest job selling itself to the unfamiliar.
"From a story perspective, it's unclear what the immediate stakes are—mankind fended off an alien invasion at some point in the past, but it's hard to tell if there's another one on the immediate horizon," writes Ray Subers on Box Office Mojo. "That wouldn't be as big an issue if there was a compelling central character for audiences to rally behind, but unfortunately ads have largely focused on Harrison Ford's gruff military commander instead of title character Ender."
But even if you know nothing about the film other than its name, you're going to recognize some of its elements. The novel version of "Ender's Game" came out in 1985, and the short story it was based on in 1977, so we're certainly not saying "Ender's" stole these ideas. More that they're part of the larger pop-culture sci-fi military-drama movie universe.
See the war in flashback
Ender's people have been attacked by an alien race called the Formics, also known as the "buggers." But the movie is about what happens when Ender gets involved, so a voiceover narrative sums up the bloody war gone by and moves us straight to Ender's involvement.
Sounds like: "Pacific Rim" and "Terminator 2," both of which feature voiceovers summing up how a planet-encompassing war came to be, and moving us briskly to where the movie's action can start. (As we pointed out, "Pacific Rim" did some borrowing of its own.)
Ender invents a new ending for a test
Ender plays a computer game that seemingly has no right answer. As a mouse, he's told to choose between two goblets, but both are poisoned. It's only when he disobeys the game's supposed rules by climbing into the eye of a giant that he wins.
Sounds like: "Star Trek" fans will recall a young Capt. James T. Kirk being challenged by the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Kirk must either endanger his own ship or leave the Kobayashi Maru to be destroyed. Neither choice ends well. So Kirk, being Kirk, reprograms the simulation so it's possible to rescue the ship. Like Ender, Kirk too did not believe in the no-win scenario.
I believe that children are our future
In "Ender's Game," it's the children who are recruited to train to fight a war, complete with battle training in elaborate and presumably early death.
Sounds like: There is no shortage of concepts where children must take on adult responsbilities in future worlds, but a recent example is "The Hunger Games," where children are chosen by lottery and trained to fight to the death in elaborate arenas.
Kid heroes appear nerdy, have special powers
Ender is as skinny as a Slim Jim, and he's immediately pummeled by stronger classmates, especially once they see that the adults favor him. But as we know from his movie appearing in the title, he's a genius at battle. In the end, the meek shall inherit.
Sounds like: Nerdy kids with untapped resources are another entertainment staple. A recent example is the remake of "Carrie," where those who mock the terrified but telekinetic girl barely live long enough to regret it.
Hero finds a new way to attack in space
All through the film, Ender keeps inventing new and creative ways to battle the enemy, whether it be a bigger kid who wants to beat him up or a leader who's intentionally pushing him to the wall. So it's no surprise when, in the climactic battle scene, he invents a new attack that no one had thought of before.
Sounds like: Some reviews compare Ender to Luke Skywalker of "Star Wars." It was Luke, of course, who used the Force to successfully guide his ship to the vulnerable exhaust port that leads to the destuction of the Death Star.