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February 13, 2017

VGFlicks: Ender's Game (Part 2)

(Quick note: I've put up an page. Feel free to go there to ask anything you want, I'll answer your questions as soon as possible!)

In Part 1, I covered the first 25 minutes of the film, going over the first “game” of Ender’s Game, and I explained the plan from Colonel Graff regarding Ender. Now, we’re getting into the meat of the story.

Okay, that one time, Ender was pretty much asking to get
yelled at.
The launchies are encountering the possibility that one or more of theirs is assigned to teams of a higher rank. This means that there is some serious competition, not only between teams, but between members of a team. Ender’s questions on whether or not his e-mails reach his family stay unanswered, and he receives the ire of Colonel James Dap, who could definitely have been portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson considering how much he screams. Ender also makes a new enemy: Bernard, another boy from his yellow team.

Thankfully, Ender manages to befriend more of his teammates, including Bean and Alai. I love how in this film, and in the series as a whole, children of all ethnicities interact and become friends. My wish would be that, in the looming threat of an alien species bringing possible death to all inhabitants of the Earth, humans would overlook their differences in skin tones, beliefs and origins, to focus together on defeating the new enemy. But then again, I am a stupidly idealistic guy trying to see the good in the world despite the world around doing everything to make a cynic out of me.

Methinks somebody at Nintendo watched this movie after the WiiU came
out, and had a first idea for the following console.

Is there a plot in that game or it's just a collection of random
events and puzzles to solve?
Another thing Orson Scott Card predicted: Portable computers able to display high-resolution video games. Oh, he also predicted high-resolution video games. One thing he did predict, however, and that we haven’t seen yet, is video games that are able to mold and change depending on the player’s current state of mind. There is one such game in Ender’s personal portable computer. We see him play that game (titled Mind Game) for a bit; he controls a mouse that encounters a giant. The creature has a simple challenge for the mouse: Figure out which one of two glasses of liquid is safe. It turns out that this highly-experimental game was given access to Ender by Major Gwen Anderson, and both Graff and she can view Ender’s progress in the game in real-time. Oh hey, Card also predicted streaming!

In the game, both cups are poisoned and kill the mouse. In the original book, Ender spent weeks trying to figure out a solution. The game was apparently made by Major Anderson precisely to judge how Ender reacts to frustration. In the movie, after seeing that neither cup works, Ender quickly takes a third option and has the mouse viciously attack the giant, going through an eye, foraging its way into the brain… and come out unscathed. Yuck. That’s some Shadow of the Colossus stuff right there.

I wouldn't be surprised if that exact scenario had already been used in
other, real life video games. I mean, anything for a shout-out, right?

Although, truth be told, this is one of the things that Card got wrong. There is an implication that nobody ever beat that part of the game until Ender found an alternate solution. If you ever played any recent games (and if you read this blog, you most likely have), you must have come across many different puzzles that required you to think outside the box and take a third option. Video games have encouraged this kind of thinking for a long time already. Granted, the book did come out in 1985, and I doubt Card would have been aware of such puzzles in the games that were released at the time. I understand the mistake. Still, it is pretty jarring to think that, in the entire history of the Battle School, not a single child managed to solve that puzzle until Ender came along. The book and film then have Ender see what’s beyond the giant’s puzzle in the game – something that has never been seen by anyone, a strange world shaped by Ender’s thoughts and memories, where the puzzles take on a more psychological nature.

I'm pretty sure the folks in the Salamander team are making
Napoleon jokes in this guy's back.
From there, Ender learns to think outside the box to win the next challenges. He learns to bend the rules to his advantage. This starts with an immediate promotion to a higher team, moving from Yellow to Green. New teammates, new opponents… new possible friends. In the Green team, he instantly meets Petra Arkanian, an Armenian girl who was the only female of the Green team in the book. Then, we have Bonzo Madrid, who in the book was bigger and more threatening than Ender, but who in the film is smaller and scrawnier than Ender – but leagues more vicious and temperamental. Madrid isn’t very happy to have to welcome Ender into his team, the Salamanders (oh yeah, teams have colors and also animal motifs, I forgot to mention that). This short but anger-prone leader has no interest in giving Ender any importance during the matches in the zero-gravity room, and asks him to stay at the back of the room.

If Ender can't rely on the people who claim to be his
teachers, maybe he can be taught useful things by his
allies and teammates instead. But mostly by Petra.

Thankfully, Petra decides to give Ender some private lessons. She’s an incredible shooter, able to hit targets very far from her, and she passes down some of this talent to the new Salamander. Bonzo doesn’t take it well, but Ender manages to convince him to pass down some knowledge… on the basis that Ender will go away as soon as he has learned a few things.

Try all you want, Ender, this won't make you look as badass as you
think it does.
In the next match, after Petra is struck by a paralyzing ray, Ender rushes in to help her, against Bonzo’s rules. He gets Petra to toss him towards the enemy gate while he pretends to have been paralyzed, allowing him to pass through the enemy defenses, freeze up many of the members of the opposing red team, and steps into the enemy gate, giving his team the win. Bonzo didn’t like that one bit though, as he makes clear to Ender by a punch to the stomach. There's no worse sore winner than the one who is mad because he didn't win the way he wanted to. That, or it's the epitome of pettiness.

Good thing it's from a video game sequence, or else we would
have called that part out for bad CGI.

Hm. A rug that turns into a snake, or a snake pretending
to be decoration. Why isn't there a Pokémon like that
yet? I have a name already: Cobrug!
That night, Ender plays the Mind Game again. Past the Giant, the mouse comes across a Formic, in all of its CGI splendor. The creature then transforms into a 3D-animated version of Valentine that ventures towards a castle, as shots and blows rain down on the land. The mouse follows her to the castle and takes the shape of a 3D Ender as well. Gotta say, I would love a game that made use of a person’s state of mind to build a personalized story, but it’s kind of weird that a game would know exactly how Ender and Valentine look like, to the point of replicating them in CGI… either that is some really advanced game, or there is something unnatural going on there. Inside the castle, Game!Ender finds a strange sphere, where Valentine is now reflected. The carpet turns into a cobra that Ender defeats, but Valentine in the sphere has morphed to become Peter. “Well done, you’re a killer now.” I’ll stop trying to make sense of that…

There's an eerie, climax-like feel to that scene, like it's the final part of
the game. Surely that cannot mean anything else, right?

I would actually like to know how the Hell do this game’s controls work. Game!Ender seems able to do anything, even if the game doesn’t seem to be using buttons and features that would make it possible. Hm, maybe it’s just THAT advanced. Well, if anything, a discussion between Graff and Anderson following that scene reveals that, whatever happened in the game, Anderson didn’t make it happen – she doesn’t even know how those models of Valentine and Peter got in there…

The most mismatched team of all. But can it become...
the best team of all?
Some time later, Graff offers Ender to command his own team – the Dragon Army, which ironically, despite having the most badass name in that entire goddarned Battle School, has never won a single game. That name had been discontinued a few years ago, but Graff revives them to give Ender some control. The team would contain other students who have trouble fitting in the ranks of their respective teams. That can only lead to good things, am I right? Can this unexperienced leader take his team from the bottom of the rankings to the very top? Wow, this is sounding more and more like a cheap sport flick masquerading as a science-fiction epic.

Ender immediately assures his team, composed of members of various armies (including the yellow and green ones), that he won’t be doing everything like the other commanders. For starters, he makes it clear that he accepts his teammates’ ideas for strategies in the zero-gravity room. Some time passes, and soon they do so well that they reach third place in the ranking. And since there’s possibly a Formic army approaching Earth, Graff decides to push Ender further… namely, by pitting the Dragon army (the two best teams), in the middle of the night, against the Leopard and the Salamander armies. After all, the true enemy will not wait till the humans are awake to attack! What’s more, one teammate twists his ankle jumping out of bed and another helps bring him to the infirmary.

There is no better shot of this that I could have used, but it's basically
Petra shooting all the members of the team who were set in an ambush
around the Dragon Team's gate. Still darn impressive on the screen,
The Stars (the obstacles in the zero-gravity room) have been placed to form a large wall, preventing the Dragon Army from seeing what the opponents are doing. To replace the missing two members of the Dragon Army, Ender gets Petra and another guy from the Salamanders. They still carefully take out the members of the Leopard army that had hidden themselves around the Dragon Army’s entrance, using the techniques Ender devised throughout the various matches.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that. The film is already 114 minutes long, so they cut out a lot of scenes from the book – and many of those scenes feature Ender and his current group thinking up strategies, taking into account the many things that had to be known in the playground. As an example, one strategy he quickly imagines is that, since the rays shot by the guns merely paralyze what they touch, then it’s a perfectly sound strategy to freeze some teammates and use them as human shields for others, preventing key players from being struck by rays, allowing them to either take out the other team or reach the other side. In the book, it was actually impressive as, following Ender’s strategies in the Dragon Army, the other armies followed suit and started copying these tricks, leading to much more strategic plays in the zero-gravity room. In the film, however, most of those are cut out, so we’re left to believe that Ender suddenly became the very best like no one ever was. Of course, making two films for a single, 300-page book, would have also been silly, so the adaptation settles on showing only the most important battles. (The film also cuts down the book’s timeline from five years at the Battle School to only one.)


In the film, in this decisive battle, Ender sets up a formation and, despite the opponents hiding behind other stars and shooting at anything that comes close, he actually manages to get more than half a dozen of his teammates into the enemy gate. Crushing victory if there ever was one.

Every time Ender winds up getting rid of an opponent
by nearly killing them, it's either accidental or it's
because the opponent would not hae backed down
either way. Bonzo here wanted a fight. He got one,
and his head met the concrete. He asked for it.
Will that apply to the aliens, though?
Again, Bonzo Madrid doesn’t take it very well, so he and two of his Salamander lackeys ambush Ender in the showers. Ender manages to convince Bonzo to only take him one-on-one. Remember that scene early in the film, with the bully that Ender beats up with a nearby statuette? Once again, Ender uses his surroundings to win the fight, but for once that’s not enough, and in a desperation move the kid ends up pushing Bonzo to the floor of the showers, the back of the little asshole’s head hitting the concrete. I’d say “poor guy”, but considering he was probably intending to kill Ender, I’d say his fate is quite satisfying.

I should note that, in the original book, both the bully at the start and Bonzo don’t survive their wounds. Here, Bonzo is left wheelchair-bound. If he were left as a debilitated vegetable, it would be even better, but the movie has no time to dwell on the fate of the assholes. I should add that, also in the book, Ender was more psychopathic, his mindset of “winning this battle and every following one” meant that he would go the extra mile against his enemies, beat them within an inch of their lives if necessary, though not with the intent to kill. Yet, that’s what happened both times; bully? Dead. Bonzo? Dead. Each time, Ender was guilt-wrecked. Doesn’t help that he learned about each death long after it had happened. As another change from the book to the film, while Major Anderson (who is a man in the books, but a woman in the film) stays in the original story, here she resigns from Battle School after the Bonzo incident, unable to cope with the extreme methods set up by Colonel Graff to reveal Ender’s potential.

I'm not sure if I can keep on being not sorry for the guy...

The incident also left Ender unable to accept his role at the School, threatening to resign. Since Graff doesn’t want to lose someone like Andrew Wiggin, he is forced to bring the kid back to Earth, so that he can see his sister again. Valentine manages to convince him to go back. This scene is different from the book, since by that point in the story Peter’s blogging plans were well underway and Valentine was finding herself in the midst of the conflict that was growing worldwide.

Well gee, it's a good thing the Formics were building
stations that could be easily adaptable to humans, huh?
Ender agrees to go back, but Graff doesn’t bring him back to the Battle School. Instead, the two land in a previous Formic base, now repurposed with human-built bases and apparel. The Battle School and its zero-gravity games are gone; now, we are in the Serious Business of training soldiers for the actual incoming war, preparing troops, forming a team that will be led by Ender to fight back against the Formics… and a lot of spatial combat simulation in hyper-advanced video games. …What? It wouldn’t be called Ender’s Game if it didn’t feature games, right?

We soon learn that this base was taken from the Formics so that the human armies could keep a closer eye on the enemy species. This base is closer to the aliens’ home planet. Graff explains to the kid that they’re planning an assault on that planet, for the same reason that Ender would kick his enemies who were already down: To dissuade them from coming back. Ender discovers his quarters, with a very impressive alien wall as decoration. He wakes up after his first night, only to see a weird guy with face paint sitting in the middle of his room, a serious look on his face.

You. You, I know you. Yes, I’ve seen you before.

And you were a bad guy there, Ben Kingsley. That can only lead to good things, no? Well, you and your face paint are on the DVD cover, so you’ve gotta be someone important. Ah, DVD covers. Second only to trailers when the time comes to spoil the Hell out of a movie.

The older man quickly overpowers Ender and states the rule here: The teachers are the enemy now. Every day, Ender will have to confront the latest challenge, whether physical or mental, that Graff, this guy, or anyone else, will put in his way. …Wait; that was also the case at the Battle School, since Graff was giving opponent teams more and more advantages to halt the Dragon Army. Well, maybe now Ender is just told things outright, instead of having to figure them out himself. Let’s hope it stays that way.

It's-a raining alien ship, allelujah, it's-a raining alien ships!
The man also presents himself as Mazer Rackham: Yep, like the hero who defeated the Formics 50 years prior. In his great move against the alien army, he ejected himself from his ship just before it rammed into the Formic mothership. Using his ship’s HUD, he figured out the epicenter of the alien formations, and found that the Formics, who are frequently compared to ants, acted as such in their dogfighting. They follow a similar system where a Queen is the only member capable of independent thought. Killing the Queen present in the mothership stopped every other Formic ship, their pilots dead, the ships stopped moving in the sky and fell. Good to know! If there’s one thing video games have always taught us, it’s to study the enemy’s patterns and figure out the best course of action from there. I mean, have you ever encountered a platforming boss with a very obvious pattern? Yep, apply a much more complex version of that to warfare now.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about Rackham’s face paint, he explains that he is half-Maori, from his father’s side. His father died in the first war against the Formics, so it’s Mazer’s way to “Speak for the dead”, he says. What a coincidence, this is the title of the sequel book in the Ender series! But that’s far ahead. Gotta admit though, that is a nice touch to the story.

Ender is then presented his new team on this base of operations: A team formed of all of his best friends from the Battle School! Alai and Bean are there, Petra’s there, they even got Bernard (who has gained a bucketload of respect for Ender) and Dink (one of the most reasonable and nice guys from the Salamander army)! It’s almost too perfect to be true, like a team made especially to play tactical games!

You know what, admit it. Seeing all those ships as holograms all around
Ender and his team is impressive. Even VR doesn't come close to this
level of awesome.
From that point on in the story, Ender and his team (dubbed a “jeesh”) will be playing a large-scale spatial warfare simulator preparing them to command and order a battalion of real ships and pilots when the Formic army returns… which could be soon. We are shown the simulated Formic homeworld, a desert-like land with the antlike aliens living underground… well, except for those tens of thousands taking place in the thousands of ships in the sky…

We get the big rule of the new game: One ship comes with a massive bomb called the Little Doctor, which is able to spread its reactive explosives to anything nearby that can explode, which can cause a massive chain reaction and destroy a staggering number of ships all at the same time…

Follow me in Part 3 to see the grand ending of this story!