Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Paul Verhoeven is, without doubt, one of the greatest action directors of his generation, bringing classy, sophisticated techniques to a genre whose works are too often made on the fly. Starship Troopers is one of his most underrated works. The usual error is the assumption that it's supposed to be an adaptation of the Heinlein story with which it shares its name. That's not really the case. Rather, it's set within that universe, taking a distinctly Heinleinian perspective on the world - arrogant, libertarian, appealingly carefree, shockingly callous. It's a fond joke, perfectly executed, and it sets the stage for a thrilling adventure.

Johnny (Casper Van Dien) is a student at a Buenos Aires high school who, inspired by a war veteran teacher (Michael Ironside, perfectly cast), decides to sign up in the army just as Earth is lurching into a war with alien arachnids. He also wants to impress a girl, Carmen (Denise Richards) who plans to become a pilot; and, in turn, another girl, Dizzy (Dina Meyer) tags along after him. Making up the team is his best friend Carl (Neil Patrick Harris), a psychic whose talents are wanted in military intelligence. Army life turns out to be tougher than Johnny expected, and he's on the brink of quitting, but then the bugs launch an attack that changes everything.

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Fearful that they may, as Bill Bailey warned, become human slaves in an insect nation - and paying no heed to those wishy washy liberals who claim the bugs wouldn't have attacked if humans hadn't pushed into their territory - our heroes cheerfully set out for the front line, still with no idea how brutal things can get. Verhoeven's bloody battles may be cartoonish, but they have something real to say about the nature of war, and they'll have you on the edge of your seat. Surviving as much by luck as by skill, Johnny rises in the ranks, becoming one of those heroes whose stories will be celebrated as if every young soldier can expect the same success. Meanwhile, at the edges of the frame, dozens of others die in increasingly brutal ways.

As in Verhoeven's earlier Robocop, the action scenes here are interspersed with commercials, though in this case they take the form of government propaganda. Children stomp on bugs in the street, doing their bit. A captured arachnid is brutally tortured to extract information. There is always the question: do you want to know more? Will you, too, do your bit to save this glorious, unquestionably righteous world?

Apparently lightweight as it is, this is one of the most successful screen portrayals of fascism there has been, because it is genuinely seductive, and you may have to stop and think about it afterwards to realise what it's done to you. It's an astute swipe at the action genre and at Hollywood films in general, expertly delivered. Rarely is a film this smart and also this much fun.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2009
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Starship Troopers packshot
A small group of friends join the war effort to save the Earth from alien attack. Do you want to know more?
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Director: Paul Verhoeven

Writer: Edward Neumeier, based on the book by Robert A Heinlein.

Starring: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Patrick Muldoon

Year: 1997

Runtime: 129 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Sci-Fi 2010

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RoboCop
True Lies