a critiQal film review Starship Troopers (1997)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: After graduating from school, Johnny Rico (Van Dien) follows his girlfriend Carmen (Richards) into Federal Service. While she aims at becoming a pilot, he is placed into the Mobile Infantry with Dizzy (Meyer), a school buddy who has had a crush on him for years. After a tragic training accident at boot camp, Johnny is about to quit when a vicious attack by an alien race of insects destroys his hometown. Horrified by the death of his family and friends, Johnny is on board when the Mobile Infantry travels to distant planets to take the war to the Bugs.

701 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 30s)

I barely remember seeing Starship Troopers in theaters years back. So, when I saw it was available on NetFlix® instant queue, I figured it was time for another viewing. I remember reading the book before seeing the movie originally. I was taken aback at how the storyline was approached in this big-screen version, and there were some spectacular effects, but that’s all I remember.

Would going back and viewing it now show me the flaws in the film? Or would Starship Troopers be more appealing this time around, since the book version is no longer fresh in my mind?

While familiar faces abound (including a hard-nosed Michael Ironside), some of the characters become nothing more than cardboard cutouts. This includes Van Dien himself, who seems to have fallen into an acting career (and later a marriage to royalty) merely by looks alone, rather than any sort of real talent he possesses. Denise Richards (The World Is Not Enough (1999)), on the other hand, seems unsure whether to crack a joke or take things seriously. She actually comes off so completely wooden she makes Van Dien actually warm by comparison.

Dina Meyer (Saw III (2006)) is a highlight. She easily switches between the rough-n-tumble girl with a gun and the lovesick puppy dog and back again without even breaking a sweat. Neil Patrick Harris, who seems to be trying to play up the satire of the film more than anyone else around him, is also fun to watch in a few too-brief sequences as he purposefully over-acts for the cameras.

Paul Verhoeven, who has created dystopian future societies before (RoboCop (1987), Total Recall (1990)), is usually pretty good about tossing in a few comical one-liners here and there to lighten the mood. In Starship Troopers, he takes that a step further by gradually creating an air of ridiculousness over the entire film. The viewer will be surprised by how many times this violent and gory war movie will actually make them chuckle. While that’s a refreshing twist for the film, it’s also a big part of it’s problem.

With satirical humor running through even grisly sequences (“do your part” flashes across a news broadcast sequence as they show kids stomping on a collection of roaches and the like while insane adults cheer them on) throws the viewer a bit off course. Is the movie being played as a spoof of action flicks like it, or is it playing it straight and using it more as a commentary on society? The viewer is never quite sure – and neither are a lot of the actors. The actors end up choosing one side or the other, making for an oddly split group.

The special effects lend another bit of mystery to the true intent of the film. Most of them are downright spectacular, only faltering slightly when they hit particularly gruesome moments. The bugs themselves are monstrously good, seemingly real enough to leap off the screen at the viewer, even so many years after the film was made. Most of the violence is top-notch as well.

At first, Starship Troopers seems to be just another by-the-numbers action flick based around a bunch of egotistical, selfish teens. As the story develops, however, the viewer will quickly find the that same old action flick is liberally dosed with unexpected humor; a surprisingly tongue-in-cheek attitude; some particularly good special effects, and moments of such extreme violence. There’s even a surprise twist or two!

As action flicks go, the mixed bag of acting combined with some generic dialogue make Starship Troopers not all that special. Toss in that combo mentioned above, however, and viewers will still be wondering how much of the film was poking fun at itself and how much was a lesson on society. The book was as much about politics as it was about one man’s discovery of honor. But the movie seems as much a comment on cheesy action movies as it is on a possible future for our society.

While each of it’s parts may not seem up to par, Verhoeven once again ties the pieces together to make Starship Troopers deserving of the cult status it has obtained. It’s still able to entertain, despite it’s vague identity crisis.

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