Is it story time? Yes, I think it is story time. So a couple of days ago I was bored and really wanted to watch some hilariously bad movies, so I put on my Facebook page asking my friends to give some recommendations for some hilariously bad movies that I could watch, some through the comments, others through messages. Needless to say I got a lot of great picks, some of which will more than likely pop up on this site in the future. However one of which that peaked my interest was a friend of mine selected Starship Troopers 2: Heroes of the Federation (and we will be getting to that soon). Needless to say I watched it and I will discuss that one next week. But it started to get me thinking. The movie I am reviewing today, Starship Troopers was one of my favorite movies growing up. A young boy watching army men fight gigantic bugs, what wasn’t to like and as I have grown up I have gained a newfound respect for the movie in its clever political nuances, its tongue in cheek, and nihilistic propaganda dystopian paradise style. I remember seeing the second one and thinking it was a waste of time and a disgrace to its predecessor. But after I watched it a second time, I learned that there are actually two other sequels to the Paul Verhoeven cult classic. So needless to say, I had to watch them as well and after doing so… Well as you can see I felt the need to discuss, not just one of the four movies, but all of them. Plus seeing as how I haven’t done a retrospective since Resident Evil last year, I felt like it was high time to get another one going. So without further ado, I give you the Starship Troopers Retrospective.
Based on a novel by Robert A. Heinlein, the first installment of the franchise is one of the most polarizing movies that I have ever seen or talked about. From experience, talking to people about movies from the 90’s the reaction I receive when bringing up this movie is either high praise or fervent hatred. With ones in the pro corner, like myself stating it is an intelligent satire that plays on fascist iconography and propaganda while hiding it in an all out shoot ’em up style movie. Others claim that it is little more than it is just a sci fi military is cool movie that tries to be smarter than what it actually is portraying and is a disgrace to Heinlein’s original work. Needless to say, I have already made my case on which side I fall onto, but please allow me to try to make my point on why I think Starship Troopers is one of the best movies to come out of the 90’s.
Starship Troopers is set in the distance future. The human race has far exceeded in technology and has started to colonize the galaxy now under the unified group known as The Federation, a fascist and militaristic organization that uses propaganda to achieve their means. They are in a constant struggle with a race of bug like creatures dubbed ‘Arachnids’ who exist in the Arachnid Quarantine Zone. They are currently under a means of uneasy peace, but conflict is boiling under the surface.
Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is a young man from Buenos Aires Argentina who has decided to enlist in the mobile infantry in order to become a citizen (and to be close with his girlfriend). He along with his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), friend Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), and reluctantly a girl who has had a crush on Rico, Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) enlist in the Federation Army. After each of the friends goes through flight school and infantry training, disaster strikes when the Arachnids launch an asteroid that annihilates Rico, Dizzy, Carl, and Carmen’s home of Buenos Aires. After this it is all out war between the Federation and the Arachnids as the story follows the characters through their involvement in the war as Rico rises from a lowly grunt to commander.
Great Acting and Characters the Feel Like Real People in this Autocratic World
The strongest part of this movie is the acting and the characters that fit perfectly into the narrative. There is not a weak performance among the group. Casper Van Dien steals the show as Rico, you can watch as this young man transforms before your eyes from this high school graduate to full-fledged commander and you get to see how this system indoctrinates its toughest champions into its ranks. It is always a pleasure to see character actor Michael Ironsides, do what he does best, playing a hardassed soldier. Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris put forth great performances, underrated in truth compared to the rest of their careers. Not to mention a surprise stellar performance from Gary Busey’s clo- I mean son Jake Busey. He is not the strongest actor and has not done much with his career since this movie, but damned all if he didn’t make Ace Levy his own character.
Even to this day watching the movie, I do not feel for one minute that any of these actors are actors or these characters are over the top caricatures of people who would live in this society. These feel like real believable people who belong to this militaristic fascist government. While the other movies dig deeper into this society being an evil nefarious entity, The characters do not act like it, they have no qualms with the government, and share no desire to change or fight the power. They have accepted their role in this society and are doing their part to protect the human race from a perceived foe (the validity of that foe from actual threat to propaganda is left intentionally fuzzy). You watch them change and grow on-screen and begin to firmly believe the rhetoric that is fed to them.
Excellent Fascist Subtexts
What I love the most about this movie is the fascist undertones and propaganda throughout the film. To the untrained and naive eye of the nine-year old me when it came out, the only thing I saw was cool army guys in cool outfits killing big ugly bugs and to many people who is exactly what that movie was. But then you get into the rhetoric, the ‘television episodes’ that dig into the governments efforts to cover up dissenters and persuade the public’s mind through unrelenting propaganda at every turn. Fear and nationalism fuel the Federation who benefits from their militaristic ways… Running the risk of violating Godwin’s Law I won’t take it much farther than that. But tying this rhetoric to those pesky little historical people and also to some US ideological ideals gives the world a rather grim view of what could happen with things to come.
Visual Effects are Astonishing!
This movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects only barely losing out to the juggernaut that was Titanic and it shows why it deserved that nomination. These are some of the best visuals that I have seen in quite some time, some that rival even advanced ‘CGI’ that we see today. Even watching it today, I have a hard time telling what is the special effects and what is practical effects. It looks sleek, polished, and mixed with the right amount of practical effects blends perfectly.
I would say the only reason that this film was polarizing is because of when it came out, in this critics opinion. The tongue in cheek, let’s kick some ass, over laced with fascist propaganda that targeted some US ideology was something that a lot of people were not looking for in 1997. Keep in mind this was during the time that 1990’s cynicism was alive and well. This was the year that Titanic hit the world and movies like Scream were popular. It was during this time that certain critics were at their worst when it came to attacking movies that came from the horror and science fiction genre for simply being what they were. To have a movie as goofy, blow them up, and yet thought-provoking as this one was not on the people’s minds and thus immediately written off as mindless science fiction violence where we kill a bunch of bugs to entertain people for two and a half hours.
If you were to have a movie like this released in the 1980’s or even in the 2000’s, people would eat it up for exactly what it is. If you are looking for a movie about corrupt politicians trying to colonize and subvert alien species, then look no further to James Cameron’s Avatar for a similar sort of style. The biggest problem with this movie is not the movie itself, but the fact that it picked the wrong decade to come out.
This movie is a classic, it has achieved cult status from die-hard fans and still remains one of the more underrated and under appreciated movies of the 1990’s. The effects are stellar, the acting is superb, it is well written, and carries with it a hint of subtlety that was rarely seen in the 90’s science fiction genre.
Final Score 4.5/5
Thank you for reading and as always if you enjoyed this review then please like and subscribe for more and also be sure to visit my other site, The Nerd Realm.