Starship Troopers

US | 1997 | Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Logline: Soldiers and pilots in the late 22nd Century must fight a seemingly invincible race of giant insects on an alien planet and stop them from destroying the human race.

Arguably one of the most misunderstood modern science fiction movies, but that doesn’t stop it from being a gloriously indulgent piece of supertrash. Based on novelist Robert Heinlein’s satirical stab at what he perceived as the inherent laziness of society, and influenced by his own experiences in military service during WWII, it tales the story of Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), a gung-ho student keen to join the frontline and become a bona fide man of the world, because the mobile infantry guarantees citizenship. Of course he wants his sweetheart Carmen (Denise Richards) by his side, but it becomes quickly apparent she has her own agenda, whilst tomboy Dizzy (Dina Meyer) tries her darnedest to steal Rico’s heart. Yes, all is fair in love and war. 

Adapted for the screen by Ed Neumeier, who scripted Verhoeven’s RoboCop, Starship Troopers takes no prisoners. It’s a nightmare collision of fascism, bravado, and cheese; comic book kitsch and graphic gore. Using the same cinematographer he used on RoboCop, Jost Vacano, Verhoeven has the movie glare at you from some alternate 80s universe (by way of the 70s Rollerball and Logan’s Run), but with the heavy influence of the WWII German SS military and paramilitary uniform designs. It’s no mistake that there is a strong odour of Neo-Nazism. Verhoeven was intent on slapping his audiences with the most vicious of ironies; depicting this uber-fascist future with people who look like shiny models brandishing huge guns, piloting fancy ships, declaring sickly-sweet platitudes, but ultimately having to fight terrifying arachnid beasts, in appalling conditions, who only want to tear them to shreds.

That fascism only leads to self-destruction is the sub-text, and that it’s hidden in plain sight is Starship Troopers badge of honour. “Naked force is the answer,” declares Lt. Rasczak played with grim determination by Michael Ironside (has he ever smiled in any movie?!) While Rico faces off against his parents disapproval the two women in his life are pulling him in opposite directions, and the other lads are giving him grief. It’s like a kind of perverted Archie Comics scenario, with Rico as Archie, Carmen as Ronnie, Dizzy as Betty, and Zander (Patrick Muldoon, the poor man’s Rob Lowe) as Reggie, with Ace (Jake Busey) and Carl (Neil Patrick Harris) combined as Jughead, hell, one could even project it as Future Archie in Punishment Park.

“The only good bug is a dead bug,” screams an angry soldier. There’s another, more controversial sub-text that suggests the re-interpretation of the alien invasion is of America vs. the Middle East, and with that in mind, Starship Troopers is more dangerously pertinent now than it was twenty years ago. But, let’s face it; the underlying politics of Starship Troopers isn’t really why it’s watchable. The movie works (and I use the term rather loosely, because one person’s trash is another’s treasure) through the juxtaposition of such extremes; the relentless savagery and ultraviolence amidst the romantic soap opera mechanics of relationships, performed badly (with the exception of Meyer) by glistening actors (most of whom no longer have careers) who look ten years too old for the roles they’re playing. It’s like a train wreck in slow motion; you can’t pull your eyes away.

"They'll keep fighting, and they'll win!"