The most interesting thing about a Paul Verhoeven film is that, for the most part, they’re satire about human society dressed up as mindless entertainment. Take the bloodbath that was “Robocop,” about media saturation in the face of over-the-top violence; or “Starship Troopers,” about a fascist utopian society dressed up as sci-fi about humans fighting bugs. Look deeper at Verhoeven’s films and one realizes the man has a lot to say. Or, for those too lazy to bother, you could just glean the surface and come away entertained.
“Starship Troopers” introduces us to a utopian society where everything is perfect. That is, unless you’re not a citizen, the elite class of residents. While non-citizens are not actively persecuted, they are nevertheless second-class people and have fewer rights than their fellow citizens. In the guise of wanting to earn citizenship (but is really trying to win the heart of the beautiful Carmen (Denise Richards)) Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) joins the Mobile Infantry, the “grunt” section of the Third Reich-like military. The problem is, Johnny has joined up at the wrong time, since Earth has suddenly become engaged in an intergalactic war with a race of bugs on a faraway planet…
Forget for a moment that all the stars of “Starship Troopers” are much too old to be High School teens, and you have a very entertaining movie here. Like all of his movies, Verhoeven likes to hit you over the head with his message using background objects and seemingly insignificant wardrobe and prop choices. Take the Nazi-inspired uniforms of the pilots, or the World War II propaganda-like films that constantly plays over the movie. The media and propaganda inserts are, of course, a Verhoeven staple, and you can find them in almost all of his Hollywood movies.
For those of us unconcern with digging too deeply, “Starship Troopers” is a brilliant mix of cgi, special effects, and action. The film opens with a battle sequence on the bug planet, but quickly flashes back to 1 year earlier to follow our characters as they make their way up the ranks. Citizen Carmen has gone into Fleet, the prestigious air force wing of the military, while non-citizens Johnny and Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) has to start all the way at the bottom in Mobile Infantry. Of course being in MI means Johnny and Dizzy will be the first ones into battle, the first ones to die, and the last ones out. In those ways, Verhoeven’s world isn’t all that different from the real world now.
Once the movie shifts permanently to the bug planet, the action is intense. Cgi bugs fill the screen and the excitement level gets a big jolt. It’s a bloodbath in the nth degree, and humans and bugs alike get impaled, shot to pieces, and sliced in half, and repeat. Writer Ed Neumeier throws in a variety of bugs, from winged flyers to giant, tank-like bugs that can spew fire. Oh, and there are gigantic bugs that sticks their heads into the ground and shoots what can only be described as energy balls out of their, ahem, asses at the human ships in space. Through it all, a question keeps running through our minds: If the humans hadn’t colonized the bugs’ planet, would the bugs be attacking? Better yet, aren’t the bugs just defending their home from the intruding humans? If that’s the case, then who are the real bad guys here?
In 1997 almost no one knew the actors in “Starship Troopers.” Except for Denise Richards (who has yet to learn the fine art of acting, natch), the rest of the cast does an excellent job. They’re all believable as impressionable grunts who gets brainwashed to kill on will, kill and kill until the enemy is dead, and never retreat no matter what. Dina Meyer, in particular, is fantastic as the pretty but tomboyish Dizzy Flores, who joins the Mobile Infantry to pursue the handsome Johnny Rico, who is still dreaming of Carmen, who herself has gone on to bigger and better things, not to mention men.
“Starship Troopers” is a high-energy romp filled with gruesome battle sequences and some of the most spectacular special effects this side of a George Lucas film. It’s a satire through and through, is also wall-to-wall camp, and has plenty of laughs. The battle scenes are of the hardcore variety and Verhoeven shows again why he’s a master of big budget sci-fi with (if one cares to listen) a message.
Paul Verhoeven (director) / Robert A. Heinlein (book), Edward Neumeier (screenplay)
CAST: Casper Van Dien …. Johnny Rico
Dina Meyer …. Dizzy Flores
Denise Richards …. Carmen Ibanez
Jake Busey …. Ace Levy
Neil Patrick Harris …. Carl Jenkins
Clancy Brown …. Sergeant Zim