Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is a bad, bad movie. It’s the cinematic equivalent of wading through treacle, thanks to a sea of horribly unlikable characters, tedious dialogue and bargain basement special effects. It’s not even entertaining in a Mystery Science Theater so-bad-it’s-good way. It’s just bad. With that said, I should mention that I liked the first Starship Troopers a great deal; as generic a concept as fighting giant insects in outer space might be, director Paul Verhoeven and writer Edward Neumeier managed to craft a vibrant and action-packed adaptation of Robert A Heinlein’s original novel.
Though Neumeier was involved in writing all three films, Marauder marks his directorial debut and acts as a more direct sequel to the first film, unlike 2004’s Starship Troopers 2: Hero Of The Federation, which was also released directly to DVD and featured none of the original cast.
Set conveniently eleven years after the events of 1997’s Starship Troopers, Marauder begins by reintroducing Casper Van Dien as Johnnie Rico, the hero of the first film who’s now been promoted to Colonel and placed in command of a military outpost on the farming planet Roku San. Even at this early stage, it becomes painfully obvious that the decision to cast Van Dien in the original film was based solely on his ability to look and shoot things rather than his acting ability; the delivery of his lines is accompanied by a chisel-jawed gurn that would put Jim Carrey to shame.
Also introduced are Rico’s former girlfriend Captain Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock) and her incredibly smug current squeeze (and Rico’s former friend), General Dix Hauser (Boris Kodjoe). Before a potentially interesting love triangle has a chance to develop, the outpost is swarmed with Arachnid, an event which not only represents the most action-packed scene in the entire film, but also heralds the incredibly poor quality of the film’s special effects, the insectoid antagonists alternating between exceptionally cheap CG and unconvincing model shots.
After the skirmish, Rico and Dix are separated from Beck, and the film quickly diverges into two threads. The ship carrying Beck and a handful of other characters (including Federation Sky Marshall Omar Anoke) to the Federation’s headquarters crash lands on an unclassified planet swarming with Arachnid. The scenario is reminiscent of Pitch Black, with group banter (mainly concerned with the previously charismatic Sky Marshall’s recent religious awakening) punctuated by bug attacks that pick off the group one-by-one. Blalock has plenty of opportunities to show off her unique acting talents, which chiefly involve raising her eyebrows in new and exciting ways. I now understand why being cast as a humourless, emotionless alien in Enterprise for several years worked out so well, because apparently playing a convincing human isn’t part of her repertoire.
Meanwhile, Rico and Dix dodge public executions, court martials and superior officers with ulterior motives in order to rescue Beck and the Sky Marshall. Surprisingly, there’s very little action here; I’d like to suggest that Neumeier is challenging our expectations by having the two muscle-bound male characters caught up in a conspiracy plot whilst the female character fights for her life, but the general quality of the film convinces me otherwise.
Despite going through a few twists and turns, very little of the plot is presented in a compelling manner and feels as if it’s merely going through the motions of delivering the script rather than building any real intrigue. This becomes more frustrating as the story unfolds, because it introduces ideas that you really want to be interested in; enormous mind-controlling bugs and planet-destroying bombs? Yes please! However, the film rarely shows any enthusiasm for these, let alone makes any attempt to incite that of its audience. Even the titular Marauders, the poorly rendered robotic battle suits piloted by Van Dien and his merry band of military idiots, only show up for the last ten minutes of the film, and by that point you’ll be begging for the credits to roll.
If any part of Marauder could be deemed at least partially successful, it would be the satirical commentary that runs throughout the film; an essential holdover not only from the original Starship Troopers, but also Heinlein’s novel. Organised religion comes under fire this time, as well as well as the cult of personality that surrounds political figures, something that’s put across with the quite ridiculous portrayal of Sky Marshall Anoke who’s as much pop star as he is military leader. These elements as least give you something to think about as an aside to the tedium of the main plot, even if they are often delivered in a somewhat clumsy manner.
The jingoistic propaganda reels that were essential in delivering and reinforcing the satirical messages of the original film are back, but even these manage to outstay their welcome by appearing every few minutes. However, they are occasionally capable of raising a smile; one in particular uses the slogan “God’s back, and he’s a citizen too!” to convey how the Federation have cynically employed Christianity as a public relations device.
Oddly, one of Marauder’s most compelling aspects has nothing to do with the contents of the film, but a technical feature of the Blu-ray disc itself, one which grants viewers the ability to use a photograph of themselves to insert themselves into particular sequences. On one hand, it’s just the kind of thing you need to distract you from the dubious quality of the film, but without the ability to shout “be more entertaining!” at the other characters, it’s fairly useless.
It’s hard to recommend Marauder to anyone but the most hardcore of Starship Troopers fans; though they will undoubtedly enjoy it for building upon the mythos of the series, the rest of us are left with a turgid action movie devoid of any charm.
If you absolutely must have some kind of Starship Troopers experience, there are far more entertaining and cost effective ways of achieving this; for the same price of the Blu-ray disc it’s possible to buy the original film on DVD as well as order a pizza to enjoy whilst you’re watching it. If you’d prefer some new tales of the Federation’s struggle against the Arachnids, Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles (the 1999 CG animated series that was produced by Paul Verhoeven) does an excellent job of expanding the series’ universe. There’s also Sunrise’s 1988 Starship Troopers anime series, which presents a slightly more faithful adaptation of the original novel.