Enders Game is a puzzle. Make that a series of puzzles that Ill put in the form of questions. Who will want to see this? Yes, there are supposedly hordes of people who read the young adult science fiction book by Orson Scott Card (it was first a novella that was then expanded into a novel and then became a series). But the film wont appeal to science fiction film fans who dont know the book. Its far too lightweight.

Did the novelist and now the filmmakers really think they could get away with plagiarizing the Robert Heinlein book and Paul Verhoeven film adaptation Starship Troopers? Both Troopers and Enders are about insect-like creatures from another world who attack our planet, the governments plan to train young soldiers to go up against them on their home turf and the resulting invasion of our young military on that other world. Why would anyone put promising and talented young actor Asa Butterfield (Hugo) in a role where he barely gets to act, but mostly walks around expressionless and moping at least when hes not trying to kill a couple of his fellow young soldiers? I have no further comment on that question.

Butterfield plays Ender Wiggin, a troubled kid who unwittingly shows tactical skills and a killer instinct (apparently these are signs of leadership) to a couple of leaders (Harrison Ford and Viola Davis) at International Fleet, an organization created after the vicious Formics attacked Earth 50 years earlier. The Formics were defeated back then, under mysterious circumstances, by Mazer Rackham, a soldier who then vanished but lives on in name as a hero. The International Fleet folks are looking for the likes of another Rackham because theyre convinced that the Formics are readying another attack. Their reckless approach includes conducting experiments in rejection and frustration on the unaware Ender.

If rounding up talented, violence-prone teens and twenty-somethings to take the place of professional soldiers, train them to use all kinds of fancy weaponry, then shoot them out into space to do battle with big bugs sounds like a good idea to you, then hey, enjoy the film.

Everyone else who goes to it will be greeted by a castful of cardboard cutouts spewing clichd dialogue and morphing from kids who are good at playing violent video games to ray-gun-shooting battle-ready military men and women, pretty much overnight.

The film is bustling with fancy gadgets and gizmos and huge sets and some good-looking weightless effects, but everything about it adds up to a bunch of cheese. There are mundane sideplots about Enders older siblings, both of whom tried out for the program but failed. His sister was too compassionate; his brother was too violent. Theres a mishandling of Enders unexplained penchant for questioning authority, including the authority of Harrison Fords gruff Colonel Graff (in one of his more uneven performances) and of big Nonso Anozies Sergeant Dap (who comes across as too cartoonish).

Even when things start to get promising, as with some business concerning inner turmoil during training between Ender and his angry little team commander Bonzo Madrid (Moises Arias), it all falls apart in unnecessary melodrama.

Thats all before some of the mystery about the mysterious Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley, who played opposite Butterfield in Hugo, and here, with a heavily tattooed face looks like a futuristic Queequeg, albeit with an Australian accent) is cleared up in a third-act appearance of the character. Kingsley gives us a taste of juicy acting in a very minor role.

If there are enough problems in the films buildup to an inevitable conclusion an attack on the Formic planet toward the end it features a change in mood that negates everything that came before it. And in its final moments, the script blurts out a conclusion that pathetically cries out for a sequel but cant make up its mind if the film is sending its message to hawks or to doves.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.

Written and directed by Gavin Hood

With Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley

Rated PG-13