Paul Verhoeven’s film Starship Troopers is on the surface just a plain sci-fi militaristic action thriller as there have been dozens before and after. Humanity (represented by the Federation) is caught in a deadly fight with an alien race, the Bugs. Space ships and infantry are sent to the bugs’ remote planet to fight for Earth’s life.
Second, and most importantly, the movie plays constantly on the fine line between the involuntarily cheesy and the purpusefully serious, forcing us to exposure to a pendulum swinging of emotion that range from the seriously disgusted (by the movie’s explicit fascism) to the seriously amused (by the movie’s implicit sarcasm).
If we were talking about a German movie maker, I would be less inclined in believing in sarcasm, but the Dutch director definitely comes from a nation of distaste for fascism, and the heroic tone of the movie just can’t be for real.
The movie stars a bunch of heroes, amongst whom features most prominently a group of high school graduates turned soldiers. The incredibly Aryan looking Johnny Rico (oddly enough from Buenos Aires, sinister playground of the expat Nazis of yore) is the anchor of the group, an enthusiastic but easily sullen young man. His sweetheart, her paramour, his paramour and a few other characters embark on the fleet to the Bug planet, where they will defeat the ‘Brain’, the queen bug.
Again, what is unique about this movie is that it all makes sense as a sci-fi action thriller. The special effects, with the most naturalistic beasts since Jurassic Park, are worthy of the $95M spent. The fighting is kick-ass, and the dismembered body parts are countless. Gore fills the screen left and right, human and bug are piecemeal without much distinction.
Then there is the disturbing part. That’s when the propaganda machinery kicks in, convincing the young folks to go to war, well knowing they are not likely to come back alive. Their battle cry, indeed, is: “Do you want to live forever?”
There are the scenes with dozen, hundreds of soldiers in formation, resembling the pictures shown by totalitarian regimes (including one that is not so far away from here). There is the obligatory scene with the one group member that dies buried “at space”.
They are all incongruous, hence point at satire. But there is nothing about the movie that tells you it is not just bad storytelling. You have to guess it by the quality of the script, of the direction, even of the acting. To many, that’s probably too subtle and a less thinly veiled criticism of totalitarianism might have been more approachable.
Worth watching, especially on a creepy night, especially in tandem with other sci-fi action thrillers with evil bugs and a weird sense of humor from European directors: “Independence Day.”