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Starship Troopers Series – Review: Part 2

24 Sep

Here we come to the conclusion of my review for the Starship Troopers movie series. To recap, I gave the original film an A- because of its perfect blend of satire and over the top sci-fi action. It’s one of Verhoeven’s best and stands as a classic of the 1990s. It’s sequel was lucky enough to slide by with a since it completely lacked all of the great stuff from the original and felt like such a huge departure from what this series should be. Now we have Starship Troopers 3: Marauder and Starship Troopers: Invasion to pick up the slack. They have a lot riding on them after the abysmal second film, so let’s see how much the can do for the series.

In 2008, Starship Troopers 3: Marauders was released on DVD, making this the first film in the series to go right to DVD after the first film was a major theatrical release and the second was a TV movie. Luckily, this film, despite its direct to DVD status, picks up some of the slack.

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The war with the Bugs has been going on for over a decade, and the Federation is still unable to outgun the overwhelming numbers of their enemy. On the planet of Roku San, Col. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is in charge of a large military base that is being inspected by his old friend Gen. Dix (Boris Kodjoe) and Sky Marshal Anoke (Stephen Hogan). When the Bugs get through the perimeter of the base, the Sky Marshal is forced to leave on his ship which is soon shot out of the sky leaving him and a small crew stuck on a desert planet. Under the leadership of Capt. Lola Beck (Jolene Balock), this crew starts moving towards a section of their broken ship to call for evacuation while avoiding the Bug swarm. Meanwhile, Dix recruits Rico to lead the new Marauder program, which would put him at the head of a unit of soldiers donning mech-like power armor to go to the planet’s surface and rescue the survivors before it’s too late.

After Hero of the Federation deviated from the structure and style of the first Starship Troopers film, it was a nice surprise to see Marauder return things to what they once were, for the most part. This is another direct to DVD release, so there’s a major limit on what can be done, but this movie and the film makers behind it clearly have some major ambition. The writer of the first and second films, Edward Neumeier, returns again to write the screenplay but also takes a spot in the director’s chair. That being said, he did a pretty good job all around. It was great to see the character of Johnny Rico come back, especially with Casper Van Dien reprising the role. This helped this film really feel like it fit in nicely with the original. More attention is also given to the idea of psychic soldiers, and the satirical humor makes a lot more of a comeback than it did in the previous film. The Federation as a whole is front and center at this one, which also gave me a clearer and wider look at the world these movies occupy.

While this movie does fix a lot of problems from the second one, like being more interesting, better looking, and having better special effects, there’s still glaring problems to be seen here. First off, Johnny Rico is established in the beginning, and it was great to see him again. After a while though, he takes a back seat to the people stranded on the planet. I figured that would all be fine because when he takes command of the Marauders, it’s gonna be awesome. Well it kinda sorta was. The ending of this movie is very anti-climactic and I was pretty disappointed. When the mech suits land on the planet, I was so ready for a big throw down with the Bugs, but it was over before it even began and nothing that cool even really happened. It was a wasted opportunity that should have been part of the movie more. Finally, there’s this weird theme about religion that is beat over the viewer’s head, but in the end, the film can’t seem to figure out its stance on the subject which just makes it really annoying. These are some major problems in an otherwise good film.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is a really impressive direct to DVD movie and it a pretty worthy successor to the original for what it is. It still suffers from the low budget that most, if not all, direct to DVD movies suffer from, but the ambition overshadows that. There’s a lot of great ideas in this movie, but there’s unfortunately a lot of problems holding it back from reaching its full potential. If you’re a fan of the original Starship Troopers, this movie continues the story and the mood much better than the second film and works well as fleeting entertainment. It’s not great, but it’s alright.

Final Grade: C+

With three live action feature films, it would’ve made sense to leave this series as a trilogy, but in 2012 we got another entry. This film was released in theaters in Japan and direct to DVD in the United States. Surprisingly enough, Starship Troopers: Invasion was a pretty cool addition to the series.

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As the war rages on, the Bugs have begun attacking more Federation outposts like the asteroid base, Fort Casey. While the Bugs are in the middle of their siege, and elite team of the mobile infantry lands to rescue the crew and destroy the base so no Bugs can escape. Along with the infantry, pilot Capt. Ibanez (Luci Christian) and Minister of Paranormal Warfare Carl Jenkins (Justin Doran) escape the base, but Jenkins commandeers Ibanez’s starship before mysteriously going dark. Before Ibanez and the soldiers can get home, Gen. Johnny Rico (David Matranga) orders them back to find the starship that went dark and investigate what went wrong. After finding the ship, the infantry and Ibanez find the crew wiped out and Jenkins hidden away in the cargo hold. Soon, the Bugs make themselves known and the fight for survival begins as a Queen takes command of the ship and directs it onto a crash course for Earth.

The first thing you may notice about this movie is that it is completely computer animated. This could have either helped or hindered the movie, but in this case I think it helped. The animation isn’t anything special but it works well enough for the story, and the actors were all motion captured which gives the characters a little bit more life in their animation than they otherwise would have. This being a computer animated movie, there’s also a lot that could be done that otherwise couldn’t have been without an insanely huge budget. For one thing, the power suits finally get to do a lot, and we finally get to see how powerful and useful they really are. We got a glimpse of them in Marauder, but with Invasion you finally get to to really see them in action.

Speaking of action, this movie has plenty of it, and that’s both a good and bad thing. There’s plenty of scenes where the Bugs chase the troopers down endless corridors and trap them in seemingly impossible situations that they have to fight their way out of, but it does get a little repetitive after a while. There’s no grand battle scene or anything like that to shake things up. There’s also a lot of characters in this movie that don’t have a chance to get fully developed, so when some of them do die, it feels like a wasted potential for some real drama. This is something that the original Starship Troopers did well, but none of the others could quite match. Still, when the action picks up, especially towards the end, it does get to be a lot of fun and is the kind of stuff that this series is based on.

Starship Troopers: Invasion is oddly enough the best film in this series since the original, but it still doesn’t quite live up to that one in many ways. There are some cool characters, the animation looks good, and there’s plenty of action to keep die hard fans of the series entertained. It was also cool to see more of the original characters make a return. Unfortunately, the lack of character development and the repetitive nature of the action stop this movie from becoming something of a cult classic. Fans of the series will probably enjoy this one while people unfamiliar with the world may not see anything too special.

Final Grade: B-

Well, there you have it. All in all, this is a pretty lackluster series. The first film was an outstanding, satirical sci-fi/war film while the second one has a special spot at the very bottom of the bargain bin for all eternity. Some redemption was found with the third and fourth, but not enough to really hearken back to the original film. These movies can be an interesting watch, but it may be best to just stick with the 1997 original by Paul Verhoeven.

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Starship Troopers Series – Review: Part 1

15 Sep

Science fiction is one of my favorite genres of film, and when you add the themes of war and militarization along with the enemies being giant bugs from another planet, I’m completely on board. This makes the Starship Troopers movies right up my alley, but not all of them have gotten much praise. Based off of a 1959 novel by Robert Heinlein, the story of humanity in a utopian, yet oddly fascist, world in the 23rd century who go to war against a race known as the Bugs provided a lot of heavy handed messages that the author believed in. It seems pretty ripe for feature film story telling, and in some ways it worked. This series, like many others, certainly has its fair share of ups and downs.

Let’s start with Paul Verhoeven’s original cult classic from 1997, Starship Troopers.

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By the 23rd century, the Earth is now classified as a federation that is ruled in a fascistic and militaristic way. It’s a strange utopia that condones violence to survive and the only way to become a citizen is to serve in some branch of the military. That’s exactly what Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) intends to do once he graduates high school. Along with his friends Carl (Neil Patrick Harris), Carmen (Denise Richards) and Dizzy (Dina Meyer), Rico joins the military and is assigned with Dizzy to Mobile Infantry. After a race of giant insects called the Bugs shoot an asteroid across the galaxy and completely wipe out Buenos Aires, the Mobile Infantry and the Federation’s air fleet mobilize to the Bug planet of Klendathu, where a bloody war begins for the survival of the human race.

When it was first released, Starship Troopers was not met with too much success critically and the box office return was less than what was expected. Over the years, however it’s gained a status as a cult classic. When the film first begins and a lot of time is spent at the high school and basic training, I was worried that this would be an uneven mess with a disappointingly low amount of action. The first 45 minutes seemed to drag, but when the action does begin, I became thankful for all the time setting up the characters’ personalities and relationships. This makes the war scenes all the more impactful, and when someone gets hurt or is killed, I really felt like something was lost. Believe it or not, this is not a mindless movie and does evoke some real emotion, even though the acting is less than stellar.

Let’s face it, though, this is a sci-fi war film, so let’s get into the real nitty gritty. Paul Verhoeven may have had some missteps as a film maker, but it’s much easier to remember his films like Starship TroopersTotal Recall, and RoboCop. This movie stands as one of his achievements. The special effects are out of this world for the time and were even nominated for an Academy Award. When the Bugs swarm the soldiers, the movie gets so intense and action packed, which is where it really shines. There’s also lots of what I like to call “Verhoeven gore,” which, if your like me, adds some fun to the movie. He just seems to love blowing people up. Finally, this film works great as a satire of fascism and blind love and devotion to the military. The 1959 novel this film is based on got a lot of flack for seemingly glorifying a Nazi-like utopia. Verhoeven used this, flipped it on its head, and created bitingly funny satire that’s the backbone of this entire movie.

While I was planning on not really liking this movie when it first started up, I ended up loving it as the credits began rolling. It’s such a fun movie loaded with action, great special effects, and hilarious satire that starts in the very first scene. I was even surprised with how much I cared for the characters, despite some rather tone deaf performances. This is a movie I wish did better when it was first released so Verhoeven would have returned for a sequel. Nevertheless, it is what it is and this particular movie is a total sci-fi blast.

Final Grade: A-

I feel like I was just talking about direct to video movies with my review of the Darkman films, and here I go again. The original Starship Troopers was the only film to make it to theaters, and all the sequels went right for the home viewers. Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation premiered on Encore (now known as Starz Encore) in 2004, and then went on DVD a few months later. The reasons can not be more clear.

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The war against the Bugs has been raging for nearly 5 years, and while the humans are victorious in many places, there are fronts where the Bugs have the clear upper hand. On one such planets, a group of troopers are overrun by a swarm of Bugs and are forced to retreat to an abandoned outpost called Hotel 1-8-5. With their commanding officer, General Shepard (Ed Lauter), missing, the squad is under the new leadership of psychic Lt. Dill (Lawrence Monoson) and Sgt. Rake (Brenda Strong). As the Bugs find the outpost and prepare to attack, Pvt. Sahara (Colleen Porch) releases an imprisoned officer, Captain Dax (Richard Burgi), in the outpost to help fight against the swarm. What these troopers don’t know is that the Bugs can now infect people and infiltrate squads from within, which spells danger for these soldiers confined to this small area.

With Hero of the Federation, we go from the knock out action, special effects, and satire from the first one and just downgrade it to what comes close to the lowest it can possibly get. I understand that a t.v. movie isn’t going to have the budget of a Hollywood feature film, but my goodness this movie looks hideous. Aside from the fact that it was shot on HD video, it’s just a dark and colorless film. All of the exterior shots are filmed at night with only a small area lit or sand completely covering up any scenery that could’ve given me an idea of where everything was taking place. Once the soldiers get into Hotel 1-8-5, things remain dark and colorless, but everything now just looks old and gross. I give the film makers credit for the claustrophobic feeling, which is nailed really well, but this is just not an easy movie to look at.

Phil Tippett, who is known for his special effects work on Jurassic Park and the first Starship Troopers, returns to direct this film which helps in a lot of ways. For one thing, for a t.v. movie that’s then released right to DVD, the special effects are really good. They aren’t stunning, but there are some scenes that had really impressive practical work. I can’t really say the same about his work with the actors. The acting in the first film really wasn’t anything special, but this is a different story completely. There are some line deliveries that made me either cringe or burst out laughing. The fact that this isn’t a big budget film really isn’t much of an excuse since I’ve seen t.v. movies with impressive performances. I feel like the ambition of this project just didn’t meet the standards of what was actually possible in making a good movie.

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation is more than a disappointing sequel. It hardly even registers as a sequel. Not only was it released almost 8 years after the original, but it was also a t.v. movie that loses a lot in translation to the small screen. The acting is subpar, the cinematography is bland, and the only saving grace is some cool special effects and an action filled ending. If you want to watch a movie with close to the exact same storyline, watch The Thing, or forget this storyline and just put on the original Starship Troopers.

Final Grade: D

So far we have a one great movie and one that really bugged the hell out of me, pun definitely intended. We still have a few more movies to go with this series, but that review will be coming soon. For now, stick with the original.