Ender’s Game opens in promising fashion

Ender’s Game (12A)

Ender’s Game opens in promising fashion

Set in the wake of an alien invasion that resulted in the death of millions of humans, Ender’s Game (12A) is the story of how young Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is chosen to be humanity’s shining hope. Based on Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi novel of the same name, and adapted and directed by director Gavin Hood, the movie opens in promising fashion, with a cadre of computer game whizz-kids excelling at battling computer-generated aliens under the tutelage of grizzled veteran Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford). Identified as a potential Napoleon or Julius Caesar, young Ender is transported to a Spartan-like training facility orbiting the earth, where he is forced to do battle with his peers in order to prove his worth. It’s an intriguing set-up, and one which suggests that the movie has interesting things to say about the influence of computer game violence on young minds, but the story side-steps that hot-topic issue to concentrate instead on immersing us in the cinematic equivalent of a video game shoot-’em-up. That might well have been sufficient in itself to make for a pulsating action-adventure set in space, but the rudimentary settings and rather ordinary special effects are the visual equivalent of the creaky, clumsy narrative twists that usher us through a predictable story. Too much, meanwhile, rests on the slim frame of young Asa Butterfield, who is required to be both a geeky, awkward boy and a ruthless strategist.

Despite inventing a machine which causes food to fall from the sky like rain and swamp his island home of Swallow Falls, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) is rewarded in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (G) with the opportunity to work for his life-long idol, the master inventor Chester V (Will Forte). When Flint discovers that his machine has begun to churn out animal-food mutants (taco-diles, shrimpanzees), he realises that he must use his new position to return to Swallow Falls and put things right. But is Chester V really the philanthropist he pretends to be? The latest offering from Sony Animation has more than a hint of Jurassic Park to it, although the kids the movie is squarely aimed at will hardly care about its origins. Instead they’ll revel in the vibrant animation, not least of which are the brilliantly imagined animal-food mutants (or ‘foodimals’), of which there seems to be an endless stream. For the most part, Meatballs 2 is a rollicking romp through a delightfully surreal landscape that should entertain kids of all ages.

The Selfish Giant (15A) is loosely based on the Oscar Wilde story of the same name, but there’s little by way of fairytale in Clio Barnard’s latest film. Arbor (Connor Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas) are two kids growing up on a depressingly bleak housing estate in Bradford that gives another twist to the ‘grim oop North’ perception of northern England. Poverty, neglect and desperation drive them to set up as scrap dealers after they are expelled from school for fighting, but the pair do not confine their activities to recycling old bicycles and prams. Soon, encouraged by scrap merchant Kitten (Sean Gilder), Swifty and Arbor are stealing copper wire and engaged in all manner of illegal shenanigans as the story leads inexorably towards tragedy. It’s a heartbreaking tale, and while there’s no doubting that Barnard has a thesis on the grinding cycle of poverty in mind here, the politics are very much made personal in Arbor and Swifty’s (mis)adventures. Thomas and Chapman are superb in the leading roles, their blend of a winning naivety and necessary cynicism a dynamite combination, particularly when events turn nasty and the audience begins to fear the worst. There’s a very powerful chemistry between the pair, one poisoned by the scheming of the manipulative Kitten, who gets an deliciously villainous reading from Gilder that verges on Dickensian. Indeed, the Oscar Wilde reference is perhaps misleading; The Selfish Giant is closer in tone to Oliver Twist, particularly given Barnard’s use of a brutalising social setting and the debilitating impact of dire poverty on children. As haunting as it is blackly funny, The Selfish Giant will linger long in the memory.

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