(Paul Verhoeven, US, 1997)
Starship Troopers aims for the dazzlingly violent, amorality of a video game; and has scant interest in story or characters. In a fascistic future, humanity is locked in brutal interstellar conflict with a race of gigantic insects. The unsubtle tone is established immediately, as an array of flashy computer graphics are swiftly followed by a panicked TV news report of the latest battle against the arachnids, during which the reporter is bloodily sliced apart by a giant claw.
The film then goes into quick reverse, introducing Johnny Rico (the affably wooden Casper Van Dien), a recent high school graduate, who is encouraged to join the military by his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards, fixed grin throughout). Carmen is determined to become the pilot of a spaceship, an ambition which proves amusingly simple for her to realise. Rico is not so lucky, finding himself posted in the infantry. We follow him through his brutal training regime, and subsequent preparation for battle.
Unlike Robert Heinlein's straight-faced source novel, Starship Troopers the movie includes several sly attempts at satire. We learn that only those who have served in the military are allowed to vote or have children, and that criminals are arrested, tried, sentenced and executed on live TV in a single day. Writer Ed Neumeier includes some of the amusing future adverts that he used in Robocop, the best of which shows excited children being handed handfuls of bullets, and being encouraged to play with assault rifles, while the police watch approvingly on. Despite such humour, Starship Troopers undeniably revels in its carnage, at least partially sharing the gung-ho excitement of its young characters, and serving up countless skewerings, decapitations, eviscerations and explosions with barely concealed glee.
It's good to see Paul Verhoeven returning to what he does best: directing tough science fiction action films. Highly skilled at creating a simple, yet well realised future, Verhoeven also excels at presenting action in an kinetic, dramatic manner. When Rico and Carmen move together for a kiss, the camera's so close that it's practically in their mouths, and when the troopers finally move into battle against the bugs, we're right there with them, a hand held camera making the scenes feel like desperate front line dispatches. Verhoeven was exposed to the brutality of war when he witnessed the Nazi invasion of his native Holland as a child, and his films have a nasty eye for gory detail that sets him apart from the clean 'techno-kills' favoured by most sci-fi filmmakers. Starship Troopers is undeniably thrilling. It's a rock and roll film of the best sort, and will please anyone who loves loud, aggressive movies, full of endless scenes of widescreen destruction. The problem is, it's all depressingly one note, and only narrowly avoids being tedious through sheer repetition. Even so, well worth a look.
Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation