Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones vs. Ender’s Game, two movies about a young person tasked with saving humanity from a monstrous menace.
PremiseDespite its mouthful of a title, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones has a relatively simple premise. Based on a popular novel series by Cassandra Clare, TMI:CB tells the story of Clary Fray (Lily Collins), a normal girl who happens to be able to see demons and their enemies, Shadow Hunters. After witnessing a demon being murdered in the club by Jayce Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower), she freaks out. Jayce tracks her down and explains that she’s not a Mundane. In practice, this means that she, unlike the rest of us, can see demons. While he’s explaining her mythical status, her mother (Lena Headey) is killed by demons, and Clary and Jayce go on a quest to save humanity from the supernatural menace. Ender’s Game also opens with an external threat to the human race, albeit one everyone can see. The Buggers (bad name, we know) are an alien race of bugs that attacked the human race 70 years before the events of the movie. Based on the young adult classic by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s follows Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) as he’s taken from his home at the age of 10 to be trained in the crypto-fascist Battle School, run by Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford). Later, he’s shipped to Command School, where he is trained by the face-tattooed hero of the first Bugger war, Mazer Rackham, and pushed unwittingly into battle for the future of humanity. For the quality of the source material alone, Ender’s Game comes out ahead.Advantage: Ender’s Game
The ThreatWhich one is more threatening: the devil you see or the, uh, demons you don’t? TMI:CB sets its heroes in a world akin to our own—mostly. Clary’s special sight is a skill that nobody but her—and possibly her mother—possesses. At one point, Jayce cuts down some cops with a sword and, in response to the protest of a bystander, says, “Those weren’t cops.” Okay, that settles that, then. Next time you see a guy that looks like young James Spader killing police officers with a big sword, remember: he’s probably probably a demon hunter doing his best to save humanity. The Buggers, on the other hand, are a very real and visible alien threat. Although it’s been several decades since their attack on Earth, anxiety about another invasion has completely reshaped society, to the point where sending 10-year-olds off to save the entire planet is considered normal or even desirable. While the Bugger menace seems very real, readers of the book will remember that the real menace seems to be coming from the people that use the Buggers as an excuse for any and all exploitation that they see fit. The threat in Ender’s Game comes from the adult society, which is much scarier than any demon will ever be.Advantage: Ender’s Game
Corrupting the YouthClary seems to have been changed by genetics long before she meets Jayce. Her second sight allows her to do all kinds of things, such as seeing the hidden demon messages on things like club signs. Her pursuit—avenging her mother, saving the world—is a straightforward, noble one. Usually, the demons of these stories do not turn out to be the good guys all along, so she presumably won’t have any qualms about saving the human race. Ender, on the other hand, is ripped from his family at an age too young to know any better. He’s thrust into the middle of a war against not only an alien menace, but also the other students and instructors at Battle School. If there’s a better way to ensure that a child becomes a psychopath than to train him as a war machine from before he graduates from elementary school, it has yet to be discovered.Advantage: Ender’s Game
Supporting CastBesides the excellent Lena Headey, TMI:CB includes a wealth of supporting talent. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Valentine Morgenstern, the main antagonist of the film, and brings a handsome intensity to a character obsessed with racial purity. Headey, best known for her work on Game of Thrones, seems much less villainous as a brunette than a blonde. Jared Harris, famous for his role on Mad Men, plays Hodge Starkweather and delivers the juiciest line in the entire trailer: “Humanity is on the very brink of extinction.” Okay, Starkweather, no need to put things so bluntly. However, to put another thing bluntly, TMI:CB‘s cast does not stack up, in terms of nominations to the cast of Ender’s Game. Between Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, and Hailee Steinfeld, the supporting actors in Ender’s Game feature one Academy Award winner and four nominees. That’s before we even mention that Ben Kingsley has a full-face tattoo. Seriously, did Mike Tyson consult on the script?Advantage: Ender’s Game
DirectorHarald Zwart, director of TMI:CB, has directed eight feature films, mostly of the reboot or sequel variety. TMI:CB is clearly intended to launch a franchise, and it will be interesting to see how the director of such movies as The Pink Panther 2 does when handed significantly darker material. His Ender‘s counterpart, Gavin Hood, is slightly less experienced, although has directed several action films before this. His most recent theatrical release, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was also about the subject of a government experiment, so he has some experience in this thematic territory. He’s been handed a huge special effects budget and beloved source material. One can almost imagine him chanting, “Don’t blow it,” to himself on-set.Advantage: Ender’s Game
The VerdictWhile both movies are based on young adult fiction, Ender’s Game is blessed with excellent source material and a deep bench of actors from which to choose. The choice is clear.Winner: Ender’s Game
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