Casper v ANGRY SPACE BUGS!!!: Starship Troopers
I cannot tell a lie, part of the reason (well, almost all of the reason) for taking this idiotic series on was the presence of Starship Troopers and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder. Man, I fucking LOVE these films- they’re everything that appeals to me: Sci-Fi, social commentary, big knuckleheaded yanks getting killed, gloriously stupid machismo, Darth Ironside, outstanding FX, gratuitous nudity and lots and lots of lovely explosions wrapped up in a nice big ball of awesome. I’ve been so beaten up by the first few in this series, I had to bump this one up the order a bit, as a reward for making it this far.
I may be about to go a bit picture happy here.
Starship Troopers stars Casper Van Dien as Jonny Rico. Rico is a normal Buenos Aires kid who dreams of nothing more than porking his hot girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) and hanging out with his psychic mate
Doogie Howser MD Carl Jenkins (Neal Patrick Harris). His friend at school Dizzy Flores is in love with him (he’s captain of the team and whatnot), and he seems to like Rasczak’s (Michael Ironside) history lessons about the collapse of democracy and the rights of citizens. His life, let’s be honest, is pretty fucking sweet all things considered. Upon graduation, he makes the decision to join the Mobile Infantry to be shipped off to the bug planet Klendathu to fight some extremely pissed of Arachnid’s (called, in a blazingly unsubtle piece of social commentary, Arachnis). Starship Troopers tells the story of his trip through boot camp, to their expeditions on Klendathu and their eventual battle on Planet P to catch a Brain Bug. What this actually amounts to is one of the most gung-ho films of the 1990’s, a rip-roaring fiesta of colour, violence, explosions, tits, stupid lines, and commentary so blatant that it’s like being smashed over the head with a brick wrapped in a copy of the Guardian.
Starship Troopers is basically split into 3 Acts. The first act is set in Buenos Aires, the second in Boot Camp and the third in battle. The film actually opens with a trademark Verhoeven touch: Spoof advertising. In this case, the ad’s are all fascistic and war driven- being images of children stamping on insects while smiling space marines stand around to a slogan of “They’re doing their bit” or important pieces of information (psychics are real), or hilarious public service announcements (If you blow his leg off, he’s still at 80% operational capability). These are fucking great, being both biting satire and just damned good fun in their own right. Verhoeven doesn’t want to fuck around here, so no sooner have the commercials finished than he’s dumped us straight into the battle scene (a bit of a cock-up, this one). The film tells how they got to this point for the first two acts before taking it on for the last.
Buenos Aires looks like a great place. Everyone seems to be ultra-hot, all have loads of money and it’s all sunny and nice. Casper plays some kind of idiotic version of American football (purely for a pay-off line later on), Doogie gives his ferret telepathic suggestions, and so forth. It’s not hard being rich in the fascistic near future. Unfortunately this all changes when Casper signs up for Boot camp. He’s dumped in with the mobile infantry and trained by angry drill sergeant Zim (Clancy Brown being awesome: “THE ENEMY CANNOT PRESS THE BUTTON IF YOU HAVE DISABLED HIS HAND”). Ibanez breaks his heart and it looks like he’s about to wash out. Luckily for the film, the bugs make an interception and smash Buenos Aires off the map. Which, naturally, compels Casper to rejoin to kick some insect ass. This film is all about the chitin kicking.
The acting in this is bang on. Casper is at his best as the slightly idealistic, but a bit dim Rico (the look on his face when he’s congratulated by the maimed recruiting officer with “mobile infantry made me the man I am today” is fucking priceless), Richards oozes sex appeal as Ibanez, and Doogie has a strange otherworldy quality that works well as a psychic nerd. The supporting cast are also bang on- Jake Busey is excellent as Ace, Meyer superb as Flores and DARTH FUCKING IRONSIDE is seven shades of badass. But, really, I’m not watching Starship Troopers to talk about the acting. I’m watching it for some insect ass-kicking. And maybe some nudity. But mostly insect ass kicking.
Which is just as well, because if there’s one thing that this film delivers in spades, it’s clobbering things with more legs than us. Casper rides on the back of an awesome giant beetle thing before splattering it all over the fucking place with a massive grenade, the soldier arachnids swarm out of the planet’s surface shredding everything before them, overgrown mosquito things swoop down to pick off unwary troopers and giant glowing bugs fire energy balls into space to cripple passing ships. The bugs, actually, were the big selling point of the film, and they look fucking fantastic. It’s impressive how good they still look, and although obviously CGI to the core, bearing in mind that this is a film that’s coming up on 15 years old, I have to say that they look better than a lot of effects you see today. Anyway, who cares? CGI insects go splat just as well as real insects.
Then there’s the social commentary. OK, it’s like being clobbered with a baseball bat made out of organic wood, but it is there. Verhoeven has never been a subtle director (he really hasn’t) and this film is big, brash, bold cartoon of a movie. So who gives a red fuck if we see Doogie wearing full SS leathers at the final scene? Really, who gives a fuck if we’ve got advertisements for capital punishment or that the bugs are referred to with a word that sounds suspiciously like “Iraqi”? It’s fun, it’s brave and it makes its point with no little aplomb. Obviously, it’s completely OTT, but the whole movie is completely OTT, so really, fuck it, just enjoy it for what it is. This is not a film to analyse. Don’t get me wrong, you can analyse it if you like, but even if you do, it makes no difference to the enjoyment level.
Finally, before I sign off, I’m just going to talk about the script a little bit. Edward Neumeier adapted Robert Heinlein’s novel with some style. Heinlein, as far as I understand it, was a touch right wing (I stand to be corrected on this one). He manages to jam Starship Troopers full of as much subtext as he could get away with, but better than that he filled it to the brim with simply AWESOME dialogue. The fight between Casper and the douchey pilot guy where “rank is off the table” or the slogan “Fleet just do the flyin’ MI do the dyin'” or, Casper’s comment to Ironside after being asked where he learned his moves “at school sir, I was captain of the team”. But best of all is Ironside’s “motivational” speech to his troops (which Rico steals at the end):
These are the rules. Everybody fights, nobody quits. If you don’t do your job I’ll kill you myself. Welcome to the Roughnecks
Ironside, actually isn’t much cop at the whole motivational speech thing, what with his offer of promotion being:
I need a corporal. You’re it, until you’re dead or I find someone better.
but really, who cares? It’s gloriously macho stuff, and huge amounts of fun all round.
Overall, this is a fantastic film and if you haven’t seen it, then I suggest that you drop whatever you’re doing at the moment and go and watch it. NOW. In fact, fuck it, I’m going to watch it again when I finish this review. Starship Troopers is a glorious slice of cinematic gold and can have a maximum 4 mobile infantry Caspers out of 4, and very fucking well earned they are too.
So, C’mon you apes, you wanna live forever?
Until next time,