Bugs. Who likes ’em? The enjoyment you get from watching Starship Troopers is similar to the pleasure felt from a loud “ZAP” from a bug zapper. And about as deep.
In the future, humans are at war with the Arachnids (well…the arachnids are one species, but since all bugs share a communal brotherhood, they all fight side by side against their enemies). Possessing no technology, just killer instinct, the bugs have become an interstellar power, and, now, mankind’s deadliest enemy.
The central character of the film is Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), who upon graduation enlists with the Mobile Infantry. In the future, voluntary service is a requirement for citizenship. However, Johnny doesn’t really care about that…he wants to impress his flirtatious girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), who dreams of enlisting as a starship pilot.
However, once enlisted the lovebirds are sent their separate ways. Instead, Johnny finds himself in the same platoon as Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), a friend who’s had the unrequited hots for him.
After an overly long introduction/boot camp sequence, we’re finally plunged into the war. There’s not much depth or innovation in the gruesome battle sequences, but there is action…lots of action. The special effects during the battle scenes are top notch eye candy, and the battles are a hoot to watch.
Faced with adapting Robert Heinlein’s popular novel the filmmakers were stuck in a quandry. Should they adapt his philosophical angles, or make the film strictly a bug hunt? There were apparently some strong supporters of the “bug hunt” angle, but a little of both make it into the movie.
However, those “bug hunt” scenes are, surprisingly, the strongest parts of the film. Director Paul Verhoeven shoots the philosophical scenes in the same satirical tones used for Robocop (they’re even shot in a similar television news style format). Unfortunately, this parody undermines Heinlein’s ultimate message, and eliminates any dramatic tension that might have been present in the battle scenes.
If that weren’t enough, we are tormented with the sophomoric Carmen-Johnny-Dizzy love triangle that seems lifted right out of a television melodrama. The characters are so plain that you could care less if they fell in love or got ripped in half by a giant bug. Pathetically, the deepest characterization in the whole film are “charming” personality quirks possessed by the supporting cast (Jake Busey and Michael Ironside in particular).
When the bugs finally come, they are impressive. The battles hold some of the year’s greatest special effects (no small feat in an effects-heavy year). However, they’re all style, no substance. When they come, they’re too little too late.
Starship Troopers could have been an excellent film, if there was any thought whatsoever put into the screenplay and direction. Unfortunately, even though they were given impressive source material (and even more impressive effects), they fail to create anything lasting. Like a bug “ZAP”, it might bring a fleeting smile to your face, but that’s all.