A movie watched as a youngster can either age like wine or milk. When one grows older and wiser it can decrease in value in one’s eyes, realizing that it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, or it can increase, making you appreciate it for more that what you did when you were a kid or a teenager. In the case of my ninth favourite movie of all time, Starship Troopers, it has risen ever since I was a kid.
Starship Troopers is a hell of a movie. A funny, action packed, and stark sci fi film about what it truly means to serve your country. As a kid, seeing it for the first time, I took it on a very surface level: space marines shooting bugs, and I thought it kicked ass. The movie was unlike anything my young mind could comprehend. But as time went on, I began to see it as a truly interesting and intelligent film made by one of the best directors out there. I will be examining the movie from both sort of view points; a surface level, as well as a deeper level.
Starship Troopers, based on the Robert A. Heinlein novel of the same name, tells the story of Juan “Johnny “ Rico, a young high school student who, along with his friends Carmen and Carl, enlist in the Terran Federation Armed Forces. While Carmen becomes a pilot, and Carl joins what is essentially a psy-ops division, Johnny joins the Mobile Infantry and becomes a foot soldier. After going through boot camp, breaking up with Carmen, and being lashed for poor conduct as a squad leader, he becomes a fully fledged soldier. After a race of arachnid aliens launch an asteroid at Buenos Aries and destroy the city, the Terran Federation is plunged into war and Rico must fight with his fellow soldiers to stop the bugs and win the war.
From a more simplistic “space marine fight the bugs” sort of perspective, this movie kicks ass. Great script, great characters and performances (Casper Van Dien is good as Rico; Neil Patrick Harris and Denise Richards were great as Carmen and Carl; and Michael Ironside was badass Lieutenant Rasczak), fantastic special effects, great world building, amazing score, etc.
Paul Verhoven’s style is perfect for action movies. His blending of practical and CGI makes for an amazing visual feast. The battle scenes, especially the one at the fort, and the one at the very end in the bug hole, were absolutely exciting. The designs of all the bugs were amazing, and the futuristic world that Rico and his friends live in looks quite amazing. Dare I say it, I believe the effects in this movie have, overall, aged quite well.
But the most important aspect, the one that I discovered as I grew older and (somewhat) wiser, was the subtext. Both the film and the novel explore and deconstruct what it means to be a soldier and what it means to serve your nation. The main difference between the book and the novel, aside from various plot points and character moments, is how they go about exploring this idea. The book is more tempered and subtle, exploring Rico’s day to day life as a soldier, and his thought process regarding why he is serving. The movie is more satirical and more pointed in its approach. Through its imagery (the emblems and uniforms for the Terran officers and leaders look oddly like Nazi emblems and uniforms) and some of the more subtle and disturbing ideas (they conscripted children to fight in the war), the film presents being a soldier as something akin to becoming a monster. Throughout the war, Rico’s friends are slaughtered, he has to kill his own teacher and lieutenant, and massacres thousands of an alien race that very well could have been capable of diplomacy. Underneath the guise of a badass action movie, this movie shows that being a soldier comes at a cost: your humanity.
If I was forced to say something bad about the film, I would say that some of the fine detail of the novel is lost. Alot of Rico’s thought process is not deeply delved into. While, in the overall, it isn’t a crippling detriment to the film, I would have preferred it delve a little deeper into Rico’s character.
Overall though, this movie is an often overlooked gem. It is a diamond in the rough. It is smart, exciting, and damn well made. It may not be as rich in character detail as the novel, but it is still a fantastic film. One of Paul Verhoven’s best films, and one of the best films of the 90s. Highly recommended
9.5 out of 10