Buggin’ out: “Starship Troopers 3: Marauder”

November 13, 2008

200px-starship_troopers_3_marauderPaul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is considered by many cinephiles as one of the most misunderstood and maligned films of the past twenty years or so. I agree with the misunderstood part, and have no doubts that’s part of the reason why the movie tanked at the box office. Audiences (and studio execs) learned the hard way that if you want a rousing, brain-dead action movie, maybe a Euro-leftie misanthrope and his supreme-ironist writing partner aren’t the best guys to deliver it. Starship Troopers suckered audiences into the theater with promises of a special effects extravaganza featuring an interstellar war between humans and bugs only to be told, in essence, “these movies are crap, and, oh yeah, you’re a fascist for wanting to see it in the first place.”

Fair enough. But I take issue with the stance that the film is maligned. Even if you get what Verhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier were trying to do with the movie, it still kinda sucks. The filmmakers decided to present the movie with the same tone of winking irony as Robocop, rather than delve into the blatantly-fascist themes of Heinlein’s book.  The acting is uniformly atrocious, and the characters make your average egg crate seem stimulating by comparison. Beyond that, the details of the future war they’ve started don’t really stand up. Why is it that when fighting giant bugs that have no weapons (with the exception of the big ones that fart photon torpedoes), the military responds by sending in infantry troops! No armor, no artillery, no gunships, they just flood the battlespace with the only combatants vulnerable to the enemy!  On top of this, the doomed infantrymen are armed against their chitinous foe with assault rifles of negligible value–no grenade-launchers, rockets, or even belt-fed weapons. Christ, I roll with more firepower than that missions to the fish farm (long story). 

Verhoeven and Neumeier  weakly defend some of their choices by saying that they were parodying popular action movies, but I’ve never been sold on the whole “intentionally bad” defense. After all, there’s a difference between subversive and stupid.  Still, they seemed to have a vision for the movie, which is more than can be said for the two sequels. Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation played it straight, which is weird, since Neumeier was one of the writers. Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, however, returns to the winking irony of the original—for the good or the ill (mostly ill).

Marauder reunites us with Johnny Rico (Casper van Dien who hasn’t become any more animated or articulated in the intervening eleven years), but doesn’t give him much to do for most of the film. In fact much of the movie is spent with Captain Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock) and a handful of other survivors of a crash-landing as they trek across a desert planet in search of rescue. Bad news is she’s saddled with a religious-freak (Marnette Patterson), some generic red-shirts, and a high-ranking officer/popular singer (not kidding) Sky Marshal Omar Anoke (Stephen Hogan). Sky Marshal Anoke is also a bit of a religious whack-job (religion has, apparently been outlawed in this society), who insists that not only does God exist, but He’s waiting for them on this very planet (William Shatner could tell you that looking for God on shithole planets never ends well).

At the same time, Rico’s buddy General Dix Hauser (Boris Kodjoe) tries to unravel a conspiracy at HQ surrounding the Sky Marshal. Big surprise—he learns the Sky Marshal’s a religious nutjob. It all culminates in a daring rescue featuring the much-anticipated (mostly by overheated fanboy-wankers) “powered suits” described in the novel. Basically, they’re up-armored versions of the power-loader from Aliens only it entails the soldiers wearing them to get naked first (they’re filmed from the waist up, so good news for guys in the audience, not so much for the gals).

If this seems pretty straightforward, it’s only because I’ve skipped the additional half-dozen half-baked ideas that fill the movie: Rico’s disgrace, Rico’s faked deaths, conflict with local farmers, the love triangle between Rico and Beck and Hauser, the evil Admiral, the mega-bomb, the planet-sized bug, and a bunch of other crap. This installment was directed by Neumeier as well as written by him, and he manages to smother the film in his ironic detachment. Verhoeven might have been able to do some amusing things with this movie, but Neumeier lacks his subtlety, and as a result the movie is openly satirical verging on parody. It’s a little bit like if the commercials from Robocop were extended into 98-minute feature films.

This time around it seems that religion is Neumeier’s target. He gets a couple of digs in at the “Got mit uns” mentality intertwined with warfare—and even has a fake war-bond commercial to this effect—but having Blalcok and Patterson kneeling with their hands clasped like little girls as they recite the Lord’s Prayer moments before Rico and the rest of nude power-suiters swoop in like the cavalry is a bit on the nose. It also begs the question of why this society is atheistic to begin with. Religion is actually very helpful in fascist societies.

And we still have the atrocious acting (the actors in Rico’s nude platoon made me long for master thespians like Denise Richards), an incoherent storyline, and some subpar special effects to deal with (the warrior bugs look like huge rod puppets leaning against a wall in this movie). There’s really nothing in either the story or the effects we haven’t seen before, either. Neumeier’s lack of subtlety also scuttles much of the sense of urgency that his warmed-over storyline might have provided. Starship Troopers at least worked as an action movie. It’s hard to take this one seriously enough to get too invested in the action. 

Eleven years after the first Starship Troopers, in the midst of two wars—one of which was sold to us by appealing to our senses of patriotism and retribution—and Edward Neumeier can’t come up with a satire of jingoism and a society’s embrace of fascism that’s more nuanced than the one he wrote during a period of relative tranquility. That’s actually more ironic than anything in this movie.

ADMIN NOTE: Yeah, I kind of phoned it in with that crappy headline. Sorry about that.

One comment

  1. I actually really enjoyed Starship Troopers. In its defense, I think it was a satire (which does not require that it be intended to be humorous, although it often is to those in on the joke) and not a parody (intended to be comedy, which means that some aspect of the humor should be accessible to the lowest common denominator).

    The fact that the movie was taken at face value or considered weird and incomprehensible by many, yet it had parts that were uproariously funny to me (I belly-laughed through a lot of that movie) while definitely conveying to me that the director did, indeed, intend me to laugh at those points, elevates it far above the awful movie that makes me laugh despite the filmmakers.

    If a person doesn’t get the humor and decides that the movie is just weird or (God forbid) s/he thinks the movie is straight awesome, the people who get the joke also get to laugh at him/her. Depending on one’s point of view, that can make the movie seem even better–or make it seem elitist and mean-spirited.

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