Earlier this year I had the enjoyable opportunity to review the first Starship Troopers film, now though all three are being released in a boxed set so lets go back to the original and include the 2 sequels just for the fun of it.
Most frequenting AVForums will be more than familiar with some if not most of Paul Verhoeven's work, Robocop, Total Recall, Showgirls, Hollow Man and Basic Instinct - the list is quite extensive. Certainly he has dipped his toe into the world of Sci-Fi on a couple of occasions so how well does he fare with this 1997 bug fest? Again most here will already know the overall plot of Starship Troopers so I hope not to linger too long on the actual plot summary itself.
Starship Troopers : Brief Synopsis
Adapted from the Robert A Heinlein novel of the same name it follows the maturing journey of 4 young people as they enroll in the military and find themselves propelled into a brutal war against some intelligent, highly adaptive insects. Set on a future Earth of no determined year it quickly becomes apparent that the society in which these people live verges on militaristic and is no doubt fascistic in nature. For people to become citizens and take an active part in society, be that voting, writing, having kids they must serve at least two years military service. Unless you're wealthy you're pretty much resigned to joining up. Most of our four protagonists enroll in the military for this reason. Rico's family though has money - he's along for the ride because of his girlfriend. Johnny Rico and Dizzy Flores with low intelligence are cannon fodder taken up by the Mobile Infantry. Carmen Ibanez (Rico's girl) has always wanted to fly and has the smarts to be snapped up by the Airfleet. Finally Carl Jenkins, as well as being intelligent, shows aptitude in telepathy and wanders off to Military Intelligence.
Bar Carl, we follow the initial training of these young heroes until finally full scale war breaks out and they are forced onto the front line to engage these devilish multi legged beasts on their own turf.
Individual Score : 8
Starship Troopers 2 : Hero of the Federation : Brief Synopsis
Continuing the fight against the bugs our mobile infantry push deeper into bug territory in the fight to beat them back, to push them further from Earth's home soil. The infantry now find themselves protecting distant human colonies on far off planets and it is on one such planet that we find a rag tag bunch of grunts fighting for their survival.
Holed up in a keep they await rescue, bugs to the left of them, bugs to the right and unbeknown to them bugs in their own midst. We see the usual bug hoards screaming in the distance and as they march on our small band, we're introduced to a new breed, a bug small enough to enter the body, to consume it from within and then to control its remaining frame. Who's now the bug, who in our erstwhile band falls prey to this new devilish attack and who will be able to survive until that rescue pod arrives?
Individual Score : 3
Starship Troopers 3: Marauder : Brief Synopsis.
The war's ongoing, there's a new Sky Marshall and Johnny Rico has been brought back in to save the day. Hero of Planet P, Johnny's now much more like his old commander, ruthless, and more than happy to question authority if needed. He's overseeing another far off settlement when the Sky Marshall, and quite fetching pop singer, comes visiting, giving morale to the troops.
Alas the base is attacked not only by the standard bug menace but again new almost armour plated varieties; the Scorpion Bug. Devastation reigns but fortunately the Sky Marshall manages to leave the planet more or less intact. Ultimately though they're brought down in hyperspace, crash land on an unknown planet and again wait rescue. They have little hope and one by one they turn to religion in the hope that prayer rather than a good under slung grenade launcher will save the day.
Individual Score : 6
When released Starship Troopers was ridiculed for the actors chosen to play the leading roles, this I have to say is pretty much the correct response. Rico, Flores, Ibanez and Jenkins are given very little depth to their characters, the actors pretty much failed to bring the creations to life. What we are left with are wooden statues meandering through a reasonable script looking as though they needed hand holding for much of the way. Where are these people now? Well they came from the depths of banal TV and in the main have migrated back there. I have to say that if you want to watch one of the most heart rendering death scenes then Troopers is the one for you. Not deeply touching due to the scene being acted out, quite the opposite. When one of our characters dies the acting has to be one of the worst I have seen and as such you could be brought to tears either through laughter or the shock that anything could have been this bad.
Get past this though and you're in for a pleasant little romp around the galaxy. From the initial scenes set in school we realise that Verhoeven's off again showing a world controlled, not this time by corporations, but military propaganda through the media. As in Robocop this is presented as TV interactive newsreels and again as in his earlier flick proves to be an amusing dig at the powers that be. In the 50's the B-Movies - of which Starship Troopers is a worthwhile addition to the genre - the bad guys were representations of the then Americans greatest fear... Red Commies. Here though Verhoeven is perhaps trying to say that the bad guys might not necessarily be the exoskelital creatures our jingoistic group are sent off to fight but the very society that promotes that sense of expansion and hatred towards others.
As mentioned, the movie has a good sense of satire but if you don't care for that or are having a night where you just want entertainment then it succeeds in droves. It's pleasant to watch our characters progress through their training, mature and finally be thrust into battle. Confrontation with the bugs is a no holds gore-fest. Not here do we see a couple of disease carrying multi limbed nasties, no. Thousands swarm in to take the fight to our plucky humans, all perfectly CGI integrated into the main picture. They're brutal and take no prisoners. If King and Country or Blood and Guts is your viewing pleasure for the evening then you can't go wrong. So much mutilation from the bugs, so much derring-do from our own side you can't help but champion one or the other.
Ultimately let down by some atrocious acting it's a wonder how well this would have been received had they chosen some actors with more calibre. To those ends though we do have the ever admirable Michael Ironside doing what he does best, looking moody, and Clancy Brown in a role that fans of his will simply love - "Medic!" In the end Verhoeven produces a true blast from the 50's Sci-Fi B-Movie past. One where the creatures are not what we expect but truly alien... in masses we could only hope for. External space scenes are shot with such absolute precision and beauty it's hard not to become thoroughly immersed and allowed to be taken on this ride. This Blu-Ray release only contributes to this feeling; bar a few minor lapses the visuals are so crisp on a large enough display device you really will believe you're there, part of the action, watching out for your buddies and your own back. Get your stomping boots on and enroll, highly recommended with mates, beer and pizza.
Although the original had more than its fair share of faults it was still a damn good watch and if you never believed this to begin with then have a look at the other two because they really do show where the first one could have went with a shallow direction and a shallow storyline. After watching these two final instalments it's even more apparent that original director Verhoeven was responsible from taking this up by its own boot straps and making it another science fiction piece which will stand the test of some time. The second is a rather messy affair which completely misses the point of the original. It's more concerned with a hide and seek mentality, a who is it which even in itself never really gets off the mark. There's elements of Carpenter's The Thing and the earlier Invasion of the Body Snatchers on show as the audience wonders who's human and who's bug. This worked well on both these afore mentioned epics but it doesn't here and it doesn't because apart from the initial realisation that there's a bug in human clothing wandering around every other time you know where the bug has gone and as such there's no atmosphere, no investigation on the part of the viewer as to who's what. What made the first so enjoyable was not only the graphic slaughter of countless CGI constructed bugs and some incredible gory human deaths, it was the political under currents, Verhoeven's satirical stab at a society on the rampage as the humans had become. There is none of that here at all. The story is weak, the acting is worse than the original and the special effects are either nicked from the first or so clouded in fog or darkness that even these can't save the day.
In ST3 : Marauder there is an attempt to try and reverse this trend. ST3 is regarded by most, including myself, as the real sequel to the original. Again though, like ST2, it doesn't live up to the giddy heights ST1 set. It does its best, and it's a much better watch than ST2, but it still doesn't quite reach the bar set by the first. There's an element of satire reintroduced and some good black humour as the first had, and it reintroduces Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico. It was a welcome return for Van Dien as it does provide some continuity from the first and as we've see over recent years with Potter and Lord of the Rings continuity counts for a lot. In the humour stakes this one has some chuckle factor; I loved the idea of the top ranking, head of the armed forces Sky Marshall (Stephen Hogan) also being a pop star and Hogan at times really hams up the part; he fully understood the nature of the first film. For me he and Dien were the best aspect of this show.
There's a sly snipe at religion but it's not well put together and doesn't quite get the point it was trying to make across very well. This in itself was a major let down, as the first satirises an overtly right wing government and population, so this could have made some major inroads to the concept of religion throughout a universe; it was not to be though with the main characters simply reciting the Lord's Prayer and expressing their love for all things whilst blasting ever increasing bugs that pass their way. Whilst this mirrors some of the religious beliefs and contradictions we've all experienced it never takes that ultimate step which distinguish this from anything else that's been attempted previously.
There's some reflections on today's political climate with words echoed from the current US regime on show that if you're not with us you're against us, that political dissent will not be tolerated, and a continuation of the news casts and pop up facts so enjoyed by the first. Again though they are a little sparse and never quite hit the nail on the head. The acting is better than the second, marginally so, but everyone's still only one dimensional. The effects are somewhat cheesy but still come across better than the woeful effects presented in the second chapter.
Ultimately ST1 still resides at the top of the tree, and really I feel no matter how many of these sequels the suits decide to punt out that's always going to be the case. ST2 really isn't worth bothering about it is that bad, however ST3 brings a little action and cheer back to the screen almost in the same mould as the original. I have to admit though I absolutely loved Sky Marshall Anoke, a completely over the top performance and that video of his pop hit and the salute at the end; it still brings a wry smile to my face.
The overall score for this is raised by the first then brought down to earth for the second.
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