Starship Troopers: Invasion review

Review Ryan Lambie 7 Aug 2012 - 14:25

An all-CG Starship Troopers movie is coming straight to DVD and Blu-ray. Here’s Ryan’s review of Invasion…

In 1997, director Paul Verhoeven brought his scabrous wit to Starship Troopers, an adaptation of Robert A Heinlein’s gung-ho military fable about humans fighting bugs on a distant planet. It was violent, trashy, and very funny, with its fascistic imagery gamely inverting the book’s pro-military sentiments.

The film’s cult as opposed to outright commercial success ensured that its sequels, Hero Of The Federation (2004) and Marauder (2008) were cheaply made and went straight to video. There was also a CGI animated TV series called Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles (1999), which ran for just under one year.

As producer Neal Moritz quietly works on his plants to remake Verhoeven’s movie, along comes Starship Troopers: Invasion, a direct-to-DVD fourth instalment in the current series. A Japanese and American co-production, it’s CG animated like the old Roughnecks show, and takes as much inspiration from Heinlein’s source novel as Verhoeven’s original movie – an attempt, perhaps, to please fanatics on both sides of the Troopers fence.

Invasion follows Carmen Ibanez and a group of towel-snapping, cordite-for-brains Roughneck grunts as they attempt to locate the John A Warden – Ibanez’s gigantic Federation starship which has been spirited away to a far-flung part of the galaxy by the sinister Carl Jenkins. When Ibanez and her troops finally locate the ship, the crew’s dead, the lights are out, and a legion bugs are waiting to attack. Jenkins has been up to no good, and his antics could spell doom for both Ibanez and everyone back on Earth.

The benefit of ditching traditional sets and actors is evident from Invasion’s opening frame; now fully animated, we no longer have to put up with the iffy production values and evident budget restrictions of the second and third films. Limb-snipping bugs can now pour onto the screen in abundance, and Invasion can finally bring to the franchise what Marauder could only hint at – those powerful armoured suits beloved by fans of the original book.

Director Shinji Aramaki is something of an anime legend, having previously directed a part of 80s OAV series Megazone 23, Metal Skin Panic: MADOX-01 and the 2004 CG movie, Appleseed and its sequel. It’s little surprise, then, that Invasion comes with a slick futuristic sheen, or that its mechanical designs are so lovingly detailed.

Unfortunately, the problem with Invasion lies not with its mecha suits, but the people inside them. Every single one is a basic archetype recognisable from videogames and old war movies; there’s a hulking tough guy called Ratzass (who “doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anything”), a sharp-shooting woman with a ponytail called Trig, a kung-fu expert named Chow, a disgraced major called Hero, and a mystic with tattoos whose name I don’t recollect. 

There are a couple of names here that fans of the book and films will recollect, though. Carmen Ibanez, Carl Jenkins and even Johnny Rico all turn up here, albeit in seriously amended form. Ibanez no longer looks like Denise Richards, Rico has a beard and an eye patch, while Jenkins looks like a reanimated corpse and suffers from occasional bouts of rambling madness. 

If the characterisations sound thin, the dialogue’s worse, and largely amounts to threats, taunts, barked commands and calls for help. At its best, it’s unintentionally amusing – a cry of “We are under massive bug attack” is a beauty, as is a moment where one character calmly tells his buddies, “I’ll see you on the other side” while receiving repeated, mortal wounds to his chest and viscera from alien claws.

You could argue that part of the problem with Invasion is its dead-eyed CG characters from the uncanny valley, whose stilted gestures and awkward facial movements impart even less emotion than Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards managed to wring out of themselves in the 1997 film. But really, the problem lies in the writing and direction, which piles crisis upon crisis without pause or attempting to build a sense of tension or (God forbid) genuine pathos.

The story is largely a retread of James Cameron’s Aliens, with a steadily dwindling cast and an unlimited supply of identical-looking monsters. Shorn of the political undertones and playful sense of fun that made Verhoeven’s movie so shiny, this iteration of Starship Troopers is simply a straight action movie, hampered still further by its repetitive violence, juvenile (not to mention creepy) usage of nudity and an unwelcome air of grave seriousness.

Slavish devotees of sci-fi military hardware and interspecies violence may wrest a bit of amusement from Starship Troopers: Invasion, but I suspect most fans of the book or even the cheesier film sequels will be disappointed with this all-CG entry.

What a shame that what could have been a revitalising boost for the series should turn out to be just another bug hunt. 

Starship Troopers: Invasion is out on DVD and Blu-ray on the 27th August.

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From the get go, I knew the characters' faces would be a huge negative for the movie. The dead eyed stare is very common in Japanese CG movies. Just from the trailers, the quality of the animation felt like a cutscene from a video game.

"Just another bug hunt" is right. The original book by Robert Heinlein was an in-your-face, change-your-perceptions-of-reality, re-think-your-political-attitudes masterpiece, in which the attack on the bug planet was merely a relatively minor McGuffin with the sole purpose of allowing the narrative to follow the typical deployment and action-under-fire of the Troopers. The enemy could have been Daleks and the novel would have worked equally brilliantly. The main substance of the book was everything else; the bugs were totally incidental. The films have succeeded in reversing the purpose and thrust of a classic of science fiction literature and, by so doing, throwing the baby out and keeping the bathwater. The book challenges your preconceived ideas about human society and its purpose and methods of self-organisation. The films challenge your ability to keep awake until the end. You may as well film a version of Orwell's 1984 in which Winston Smith defeats the system and wins - the entire soul and spirit of the book would then have been ripped out and just a ridiculous travesty left. That's what happened to Starship Troopers.

After just watching this sham of a production I completely agree. It actually managed to be more cheesy than the original. It's just awful and the arrangement and pacing of scenes make it an awkward watch. Definitely something I'd not watch again.

How bout you guys don't hate and actually apprecia-8 Starste the fact that they released a movie that is not half bad?? the updated animation cinema is a nice change along with the right amount of blood, guts, gore, and nudity. Like it for what it is, and just prey they keep the series going

My thoughts exactly!

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