Monday, 25 August 2014

Starship Troopers - A Second Look

Along with Robocop and Total Recall, Starship Troopers is one of the holy trinity of Paul Verhoeven films beloved by fans of satirical science fiction. Very loosely adapted from Robert A. Heinlein's novel of the same name the film none the less took a very different direction, becoming a satire off fascism and modern culture. Perhaps best remembered for its bad tactics, cheesy one-liners and public broadcast interruptions, the film took the best elements found in Robocop and changed the setting. The big difference this time was a far bigger budget, and the target of its mockery. 

Set in the distant future where humanity has a Federation of colonies united under a single banner, they have found themselves locked in conflict with the Arachnids. Nicknamed "Bugs" these creatures have slaughtered multiple colonies and launched strikes against Earth itself, leveling whole cities with asteroids. Out for revenge, humanity launches a major assault against the Bug homeworld in the hopes of wiping out the creatures in a single strike. Violence, parodies and Michael Ironside ensue.

However, while none the less a fantastic film and the last big one to be made by the director, it's also the one of the three which has actually aged the worst. 

Compared with the very tightly written Robocop and Total Recall, the film is surprisingly lengthy and does drag at a number of points during each act. While the training itself proves to be fantastic and battle scenes hold up even today, with CGI which has stood the test of time surprisingly well, each is lumbered with a few distinct points where the film seems to be just spinning its wheels. 

The scenes which come to mind are the areas between action where the film attempts to flesh out the personalities of the main characters, but there's just isn't enough to go on. With Robocop Murphy's history and transformation were more than enough to give the character an edge. Total Recall's Quaid worked by having a fairly generic background thrown into question after some relatively short establishment. With Rico and Carmen though? There's not that much to go on. Rico has had his home state obliterated, but that fact seems to carry surprisingly little weight in the long run. As a result, there's not enough history or substance to either of them to make them truly compelling.

Even ignoring that, the film takes over an hour for the actual invasion of the Bug homeworld to begin, and the basic action before that consists of training exercises. While some action films can pull off lacking any kind of major fight in the opening act, one trying to parody so many traditional action film tropes could have at least better highlighted this issue.

What only furthers this problem of the film being difficult to re-watch is the choice of actors. Those most commonly brought up in the film's favour are Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown, both of who are solid choices for the film's message given their identification in villainous roles. Beyond that though? Many of the actors there were young at the time, with their prior experience being limited to minor roles and bit parts on other series. That inexperience sadly shows and it doesn't work in the film's favour, as they seem to play the subject matter a little too straight faced. The wooden acting and cheesy dialogue is certainly intentional, but once you watch it more than a couple of times it starts to be off-putting. 

However, for all this, these really are the only notable flaws in the entire film. The action is extremely well shot in the style you would expect, with the fights directly after Rico joins the Roughnecks standing out as high points. What's more is that the cheesy dialogue works as well here as it did in past films of a similar style, and the use of irony is in full force here. There's certainly plenty of moments which can be picked out during training to which parallels can be drawn with the likes of Aliens or even human society.

Please understand, this isn't ragging on the film, it's just bringing up a point which seems to have largely been overlooked. Most people who have seen this film and regard it as a cult classic I have personally spoken with have not seen it in years. Often they have watched it once, perhaps twice and that's about it, and upon repeated viewings a few flaws do begin to appear. Please don't get that wrong, it remains a fantastic film and is a true testament to what can be pulled off with the right crew behind it. However, it's also one of those fantastic films which can really only be seen once in all its glory.

If you have not seen it before it's definitely one well worth watching for the same reasons as the aforementioned Verhoeven classics, but just bare in mind it's something of a one hit wonder.


  1. This is one of those films I didn't like that almost everyone I know loves, the reason I don't like it is because there's no possible way for the bugs to aim the asteroids (even if they learn where earth is, it moves, and even if they factor in the movement of the earth, the solar system itself moves), not to mention just how long it takes for an asteroid to reach earth in the first place, I wouldn't focus on this except for the reason I couldn't take it as a parody (when the characters did something stupid for example) and that's because of all the times it tried to play itself seriously, and when it tries to play itself seriously I can't help but take a lot of other things in the movie seriously and think about stuff I'm not supposed to because I'm not supposed to take the film seriously.
    Because of those two things I couldn't really get into the film, and its conflicting tone made it just kind of average in my opinion, but it's been a while since I saw it, so maybe I'll watch it again sometime in the future and see if my opinion changes.

    1. It's understandable,, the problem with it is that it manages to simultaneously play itself completely straight faced and ludicrous beyond belief. Given it was using irony rather than more obvious satirical elements, a few writers and reviewers did mark it down purely as a bad propaganda film at its time of release. It does admittedly help a lot more if you go into it knowing what the director was aiming for to begin with and watching for the specific bits where he's mocking society or history. Well, that or the novel.