Starship Troopers (1997) Review

In my review for “Speed” I wrote about how not all movies need to have deep characters and spectacular artistic direction to be great. “Speed” is the perfect example of a dumb movie which is just superbly done, and masterfully embraces what it is. It has no pretense of being more grand than it is, which paradoxically makes it far greater. “Starship Troopers” has fallen into the trap, it’s a dumb movie that tries to be smart and then stumbles over its own dumb limitations. Did you notice my subtle repetition? Felt quite forced didn’t it, sort of like the satire “Starship Troopers” attempts to sandwich between its own buns of stupidity. Hopefully my opinion has been hammered home sufficiently by now.

Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) has decided that he wants to join the army and fight the alien race known as “The Bugs” that are flinging asteroids across the solar system at earth much in the same way a child would throw a snowball at a car then hide behind a tree. After the asteroid hits Buenos Aires and incidentally kills Johnny’s parents, he and the army go off to war on Klendathu — The Bug homeworld — and exterminate them somehow. “No more snowballs for us” says the human race, with all their militaristic prowess.

To decipher the narrative between characters is something of an enigma, the code-breakers of the Second World War would have had a tough time on their hands if the Axis’ messages were encrypted in “Starship Troopers” supposed character development. Lt. Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) is some kind of love interest, but then so is Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) and the main character just sort of jumps between them like he’s the ball in a game of ping-pong. I’m sure there is a reason for this in the movie and you are welcome to find it for yourself, but I just wasn’t sure what the point of it all was.

After Johnny Rico goes to war on planet Klendathu, he has to effectively lead the effort to destroy the Bugs. The Bugs themselves are pretty well designed creatures and they certainly make formidable and imposing opponents. The CGI on the creatures themselves holds up to this day (the film was actually nominated for an Academy Award for its special effects) surprisingly, and for this it deserves praise. There are moments where the humans are absolutely swarmed by insurmountable numbers of Bugs that really creates the sense of an unattainable victory. Earlier in the film we have seen four soldiers gang up on one Bug and seen them struggle significantly to actually bring it down. When the Bugs swarm the humans, they go down in a few bullets like in a video game, and then for some reason once the bugs are out of site outside a walled compound they stop trying to infiltrate. Usually I can deal with a misguided sense of realism in films, but in this case it does feel like the worst form of deus ex machina. Will the marines survive? Well that depends on whether or not Paul Verhoeven decided that these bugs would have chitin made of popadums or reinforced steel.

The first half of the film concerns the marines interacting and developing, much like the first part of “Full Metal Jacket”. The movie moderately succeeds at taking a step up from the “Full Metal Jacket” Drill Sergeant however, making this one a ruthless man that will happily break recruits arms and stab them in the hand to make a point. It’s a moderate success, but it does feel ham fisted. I can see what the satire was going for (I think). To portray the monotony of war and how it turns essentially everyone into a fascist. Propaganda is worked into schools and we see news reports with superimposed texts that show soldiers giving bullets and guns to children. One scene even shows a child fully armoured and blended into a rank of soldiers, the reaction of the citizens in the film is clearly one of laughter, not of shock. I understand that the portrayal is meant to be somewhat brain dead, and in doing so being glaringly obvious to us that this is wrong. A movie that tries to be idiotic then, should have a lot more going for it to validate this. A movie that tries to portray a message by being boring and desensitizing you to the war that makes up half of the film, may well portray the message (it does) but it is still an idiotic movie that is not interesting as a result.

I felt like the second half of the movie was the termite battle scene in “Antz” repeated in verbatim and I can’t shake this feeling. Any illusions of grandeur are shattered by the films insistence of filling bugs with as much lead as possible in the two hour run time. For some reason it didn’t feel like it dragged all that much with that length, but it certainly could have been shorter. Paul Verhoeven has seen better days…

He’s also seen far worse.


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