‘Would you like to know more?’ Say what you want about Paul Verhoeven’s edgy sci-fi satire, but they did a bang up job of predicting our unspectacular now. A futuristic fascist society fighting colonial wars specifically invented for that purpose? Yup. Blank-faced actors struggling to create the impression of humanity? Check. Starship Troopers was one of the few fin de siècle movies that got it right, down to the internet adverts with the cursor point hanging over the next atrocity. Audiences didn’t get it because, well, satire, but Starship Troopers is a rare 90’s movie that comes up trumps when it comes to portraying authoritarianism.
Let’s not get too hung up on the human drama; the casting director seems to have been inspired by the line ‘fresh meat for the grinder’ and didn’t take this assignment too seriously, and the lead performances are uniformly awful. But Verhoeven was a great 70’s and 80’s film-maker whose slick commercial work in Europe left him ideally situated to helm fleet blockbusters like Robocop and Total Recall; Starship Troopers completes the trilogy. Vaguely based on Robert Heinlein’s seminal novel, we’re on the side of Johnny Rico (Casper van Dien) and his gal pals (Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, grinning like a loon) as they gear up for war against ‘highly evolved insects’ who we’re told are flinging asteroids at the earth. But with every viewing, it seems less feasible that that’s what’s actually happening here; the Buenos Aires massacre that claims Rico’s parents looks more like what would now be called a ‘false flag’ operation, and the video evidence of the atrocities seem far too slickly assembled and edited to have been constructed so quickly.
So you’ll come for the bug hunt, big guns and body armour, but pay some attention and you’ll be rewarded, as Verhoeven is as anti-war as they come and his sardonic wit shines. An early scene has the new recruits viewing their exam results displayed on giant walls, then showering together in unisex fashion; this is similar to Robocop’s locker-room scene, and persuasively suggests a society where character and libido are sublimated to the desire for violence that benefits the state. ‘There should be a law against using schools as recruiting stations,’ observes one character, but clearly, there is no such thing; the military machine demands youth, and there are rewards- ‘service guarantees citizenship’ ‘The mobile infantry made me the man I am today’ boasts one veteran, with one arm missing and both legs amputated. While Starship Troopers’s tech doesn’t get the importance of mobile phones, Rico’s video-chat to his parents is very Zoomy, and the clinically clear backdrops of military training give way to the gruesome splatter of the alien world that humans seek to enslave, leading to a muted ending that sees humankind cavorting with joy about giving the captured bugs the fear.
Starship Troopers came to mind when standing in line for my first vaccination dose; with no music or live shows, the Scottish government used disused concert venues for mass injections of the populace. In a cavernous venue where I’d once enjoyed the music of Shania Twain and Mariah Carey, I stood in long lines while giant video screens listed numbers of casualties mixed with cheerful self-empowerment slogans; it felt like participating in a real Starship Troopers sequel. Predicting the future is a fickly business, but with more than a bug or two in our current political system, Starship Troopers is one prescient sci-fi epic well worth losing your heart to. Who doesn’t yearn for the simple, state-controlled blandishments that the Fed Net announcer promises?
‘Citizen rule! People making a better tomorrow!
A murderer was captured this morning and tried today.
Sentence, death. Execution tonight at 6:00.
All net. All channels. Would you like to know more?’
This post gave me goosebumps. And this film one with probably the best quote… “They sucked his brain out…” And loved your description of Denise Richards.. Spot on review!
I had that quote in my notes, should have used it! But what is DR like in this film, grinning like a loon was my initial note which I binned…
I totally loved that quote, it did sum her up brilliantly in a Scottish sort of way. May have to quote you on that sometime.
Glorious over-the-top Verhoeven. Love this film. Give it a view whenever it pops up on cable. So much fun.
Yup, 25 years on and it’s still of the moment, crazy movie that has its cake and eats it…
I feel like everyone has a mature movie they were way too young to see. Starship Troopers is that movie for me. I must’ve been like 11 or 12 when I first watched it. The gory violence and nudity is inappropriate enough, but the social commentary went over my head as well. The more I’ve seen it, the more I appreciate the satire. Even though it’s still the persistent action that I stay for. Good review!
Thanks! I think this is a film that draws you on with a promise of action, and then asks all kinds of tricky questions. The satire is very much Verhoeven as an outsider to Hollywood, but he’s not above using all the Hollywood bangs and whistles that make this a fun ride too…
I’m curious to know if there’s a movie you were way too young to see the first time?
Oft…school holidays when I was 11. Saturday afternoonmovie on VHS with the family? Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Yikes.
How about you?
Aside from Starship Troopers, I saw: Total Recall, Commando, The Terminator, Terminator 2, Terminator 3, Alien, Aliens, Predator, Predator 2, Child’s Play, Child’s Play 2, Child’s Play 3, and Blade at a young age. My dad introduced me to Arnold movies, so my brother and I watched a lot of them growing up. The same with Paul Verhoven action movies.
Pretty much all of these are movies I’d say we’re fine to watch from 12 years onwards. Sounds like you had a great education!
I’m completely flabbergasted reading your perfect review that film I consider as a real shock when I saw it in 97. Few weeks later it was pushed away by the big boat of Cameron company, but there’s something we couldn’t deny : Starship Troopers was made by a director (and don’t forget Neumeier on the script) who had seen our world. And what is more frightening is that Verhoeven was inspired by the things he saw when he was a child under German authority.
I’m not sur I would like to know more.
Titanic stole the thunder, but both films had groundbreaking effects, although there’s a few clonkers in Troopers. But it’s a bold film that is incoherent as character development, but catches a young cast as faces in a surging crowd in a future war. Verhoeven knew what he was mimicking, the recruiting poster.
Rare movie that combined adult sensibility for satire and teenage desire for action. Saw this when it came out and my VHS copy was well shredded.
Oddly, I had a widescreen vhs of this; it wasn’t widescreen in the cinema, nor now on Disney+
Nothing is too odd for this.
I read the novel when it first appeared in paperback in the UK in 1961 (I still have the copy I bought for 2/6d). I was 12 and didn’t understand about ideology but I was struck by all the pilots being women. I saw the film around forty years later and thought it a brilliant satire. I’m glad Verhoeven is back in Europe where he is more likely to be understood.
I did a a and a with Verhoeven and he’s quite a character. Proper full-force director, and I’m even more enthusiastic about his early and later career as his Hollywood stuff, which is generally more conventional. He likely saw this book as something he could subvert, and I think he did it with genuine success here. Must read the book based on what everyone is telling me, tracing the changes PW made sounds like a rich seam…
Q and A, spellcheck disaster!
Never saw this one. In 1997 it would’ve gone completely over my head.
Now I’m jade and cynical and much more likely to enjoy!
Verhorven is a terrific film-maker who can handle satire. This might look like a guns and ammo alien shoot ‘em up, but under the surface, there’s something to think about aside from fun action. WWII never stops feeling recent in Europe, and a European director like him loves to subvert expectations. This is a rare, non-knucklehead action blockbuster…
Verhoeven’s films all have the same surface sheen and the same subversive heart, so it’s hard to know how much the characterisation is down to directorial choice or poor acting. I actually think the former? Wooden acting being one of the things that defines a lot of WWII propaganda films; films that I reckon were the inspiration for the overall ‘feel’ of Starship Troopers.
Verhoeven also liked having it both ways (and more power to him) creating movies that played well in America and Europe, but for different reasons. In this respect, Bookstooge’s comment tallies with what I’ve heard about Heinlein’s novel – ie, that it’s largely devoid of the ironies characterising the film.
Shania Twain? Mariah Carey?
I picked two of the more recognisable names, I could probably provide some more credible ones. Tina Turner? Peter Gabriel? Paul Simon? Paul McCartney?
I think you and Booky are both right, Verhoeven saw the chance to have a text that would work in all senses. There’s a straightforward humans vs aliens story, but there’s also a critique of propaganda. Yes, we want to know more, but what we’re being told isn’t the whole truth…
Amd yes, I doubt this film would have been stronger if Cate Blancett replaced Denise Richards. The point is that these are blank young people who are poured like a resource into a blender. In fact, I wouldn’t change this cast at all, although Richards’ grin does become rather tiresome…
Having read the book well before seeing this, I was surprised at how “action’y” it was. It’s also pretty clear that Heinlein was promoting a military culture as he takes a whole chapter for someone to monologue ala Ayn Rand/Atlas Shrugged.
I also think your idea that the asteroid attack was a put up job is ridiculous. Not even the most paranoid conspiracy theorists think that. You might want to see just what they injected you with at that stadium!
I ended up watching the entire franchise, even the final 2 that were animated. It does down a very dark path that I wasn’t expecting but makes total sense from a military invasion standpoint. Bad acting all round but lots of guns and bugs, just the way we like it. I wouldn’t recommend it for you though. I doubt you could get past the bad acting 😀
I did a bit of reading and lots of people seem to feel the same about the false flag! Why don’t we see these attacks? We only get a glimpse in the military propaganda ads…
Not ventured any further than the first film, but will take your word for it.
It gets confusing try to keep the book and movie separate. But the attack in the book was definitely real. It was what led to the discovery of the bugs in the first place I think.
Absolutely, but I think Verhoeven was coming at this from the opposite angle of the book. I would imagine that in the book, the response is completely justified, but the film deliberately fudges it…
Yeah, in some interviews (I think maybe as extras on the original dvd?) Verhoeven makes it very clear he’s using the story as an anti-fascist, anti-war thing.
Which is why I don’t usually watch extras on the discs. Ruins a good action story 🙁
Was just writing about this in another answer. If Johnny Rico arrived back on earth at the end and his parents were there to greet him, that would make it obvious that Buenos Aires was a fake, but Verhoeven didn’t want to do that. He wanted to have his cake and eat it; it’s a film that should work for audiences who love or hate the idea of war, and that’s super smart film-making IMHO…
Yep, I saw Angus’s comment and your reply.
I completely agree, V did try to have it both ways. And unlike you, I despise him for that. Which is another reason for me to avoid the extras. I’d have been much happier about this movie if I didn’t know what a two-faced jackass he was trying to be 😉
As much as I make negative comments about the message movies you showcase, at least they are taking a stand. Give me someone who will take a stand, even if it’s wrong, than somebody who is trying to get everybody’s applause. It might make sense from a money standpoint, but it just makes that director a whore. Plain and simple.
I hear you, but we’re both making judgements based on different information. I think V gave audiences the bang for their buck that they wanted, but also slipped in some of the subversive satire that was in Robocop and Total Recall. Most films have a text and subtext, but we can agree that rarely have two such different messages been contained in the same film. To me, V beats the system here by having a narrative that runs on two levels at once, but you may conside that to be hypocritical.. I’m also nothing that I’ve reviewed a number of films that are anti-war, but made my people who survived war. I’m not anti-war in that I believe that it is sometimes required to ensure freedom; my willingness to believe that is what I think V is challenging with a film like this…some wars are justified, but what V seems to have picked up from the book is the notion of a society where war is expected and planned for, and V has done what he can to raise questions about that…ultimately, surely we all just want to get along?
“ultimately, surely we all just want to get along?”
Well, as long as you’re not big alien bug!
Exactly. We need to capture and humiliate them! No place for bugs in our society!
not in mine anyway. Verhoeven can have them all….
Death from Above!
I’m pretty sure that’s the 101st Airborne Division’s catch phrase. You sure you want to steal their catch phrase?
Yes. It’s the tattoo that the good guys have in da movie…
Man, is nothing Sacred? Verhoven needs to go back to europe and stop messing with our stuff.
I think that was exactly what he did. About 20 years ago…
Then good riddance. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving man…
Raced back to be interviewed by me about his radical views.
Couldn’t have happened to a nicer scotsman….
Is that me?
Well, I WAS taking literary liberties. But we can both pretend you’re a nice scotsman….
Whoooaaaa there. No dissing the casting director and the performances here without putting Michael Ironside in the plus column.
And Clancy Brown. The secondary cast are great, it’s just the leads that are freshly minted in plastic.
Added a word to say its the main leads performances that are terrible.
Ah yepitty yep! Seen this a couple of times now, and it will be done again at some point. I saw the 2nd one in the franchise and it was nowhere near as good as this one.
…is the correct answer. never seen any of the sequels, but watched this again on Friday night and its as good as when I first saw it in 1997, on the big screen. Terrible performances, great movie.
I think Casper was a TV soap star before he did this. Had the right sort of chiselled jaw for the part though!
Everyone looks the part, but I couldn’t honestly promise a feast of acting here.
It didn’t matter though. I think the actors were genuinely trying and that came over and made you root for their characters.
Agreed. I think the director got what he wanted; callow youth.