Starship Troopers – 20 years on and still bugging critics!

Starship Troopers is a window into a very right wing future. Find out why, after 20 years, it's even more relevant today in this retro review.

Johnny Rico screaming in front of a giant bug

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With Hollywood currently imploding because people are starting to realise that behind the scenes it’s a cesspit of exploitation and depravation… I mean who the fuck knew right? It’s probably a good time to retreat under the cost covers of past and celebrate a film from my distant youth as it turns 20. I’m talking about Starship Troopers.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

When Starship Troopers was released all the way back in 1997 a lot of critics largely missed the point, especially esteemed ones like Roger Ebert who branded it “one dimensional” and a film “pitched at 11 year old science fiction fans”. Which just goes to show that even the most esteemed critics completely miss the point sometimes. And you would have to be a complete idiot not to realise the strong sense of satire and social commentary that lives within Starship Troopers. And guys, at the risk of doing myself out of a job, that I don’t get paid for anyways, get out there and make your own opinions don’t let someone you hardly know tell you what’s good or bad.

Starship Troopers the movie is based on the novel of the same name by Robert A Heinlein. It was written in the late 50s and at the time was panned by critics too, for its intentional glorification of the military. In Heinlein’s future, military service equals citizenship which, in return, grants only veterans the right to vote. And of course that led to accusations of him advocating things like fascism.

So much like the film, critics initially may have also missed the point with the novel, which needed up winning a Hugo award in 1960 incidentally.

Starship Troopers Book Cover

These days the story is much more open to broader discussion and interpretation.

In the hands of director Paul Verhoeven, who has also been responsible for other classic films like Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and other not so classics like Showgirls, Starship Troopers is a big fat load of fun.

The cast

It features a cast of squeaky clean characters that look like they’ve been plucked from a toothpaste or diet cola commercial with Casper Van Dien (who kind of peaked here and went on to become a more of a straight to video actor with films like Star Raiders and Ratpocalypse) as Johny Rico, Denise Richards (who went on to Wild Things, marrying and divorcing Charlie Sheen and her own reality show) as Carmen Ibanez, Dina Meyer (who went on to play a major role in Saw and has appeared in TV shows Criminal Minds and Burn Notice) as Dizzy, Jake Busey (who’s about to pop up in the latest Predator movie) as Ace, Neil Patrick Harris (who the oldies would know from Doogue Howser and the youngsters from How I Met Your Mother) as Carl Jenkins and Patrick Muldoon (who you might remember from Melrose Place and Days of Our Lives) as Zander. Other notable appearances include Clancy Brown, Rue McClanahan, Seth Gilliam and Dean Norris. But the topper is the brilliant Michael Ironside (who’s been in a tonne of great movies like total Recall and Top Gun and continues to act but also makes some serious coin in the voiceover business) as Rasczak, Rico’s school teacher and later commander of the roughnecks, he plays a huge part in carrying the film through the middle act.

Michael Ironside as Rasczack

The story

The story follows the squeaky clean cast through the last days of their time at school as they transition into the military and ultimately to war with the arachnids or bugs from the planet Klendathu. The bugs have launched an all out attack on earth and levelled the city of Beunos Ares, thus killing the families of Rico and his friends, and so they all play their parts in the war effort to ultimately establish humans as the dominant species in the galaxy.

Verhoeven along with screenwriter Ed Neumeier deliver the story with equal amounts of cheese, satire and even splatter and while it runs the risk at various stages of tipping the balance into the utterly ridiculous, it has those B-movie sensibilities and retains its integrity at the same time (unilike a lot of the films you see these days like remakes of Pirahna and Sharknado). That’s because a. It doesn’t take itself too seriously b. it’s not intentionally trying to be shit for the sake or irony and c. its actually just really good.

The acting isn’t great amongst some of the cast, and that could be because some of the dialogue is a tad derivative especially during the combat scenes where you can almost hear word for word lines I’m sure I’ve heard in films like Aliens and it all pretty cheesy. This sounds like a deal breaker but somehow I found it just added to the charm, maybe I’m being nostalgic.

It’s also kind of weird to see how joyous the roughnecks are in the wake of several massacres, although that kind of works against the backdrops of the propaganda films that play throughout the movie, similar to the 1940s newsreels. As if they have bought into the ideal the political system puts in front of them, it’s an honour to fight for your race where you are rewarded for your service with citizenship and the right to vote.

The special effects are a mix of practical and CGI and while it’s very obvious that this movie hasn’t been afforded the budget of some of the other bigger films back in the day, they’ve dated reasonably well. The creature design is really good and the bugs look great, as do the uniforms and weapons of the troops. Special note should be made of the dress uniforms, which very much resemble the Nazi uniforms from World War 2 and I think that is a cheeky and deliberate nod to Heinlein’s original story.

Neil Patrick Harris in Federation Uniform

The verdict

History I think has been pretty kind to Starship Troopers, while there has been a few sequels and spinoffs, none of them have bettered the original. And while it doesn’t quite go over with the same impact as Verhoeven’s classic films Total Recall and Robocop it’s still up there and has his very distinct style all over it.

In watching it 20 years later I think I found it more enjoyable than the first time around and in many ways, while derivative in some parts and cheesy in others Starship Troopers was very much ahead of its time, and over time it’s aged incredibly well. Maybe, it was even ahead of its time?

If you’ve not seen it, it’s worth checking out, if you have and it’s been a while, see it again. Starship Troopers gets four out of five.


3 Comments on Starship Troopers – 20 years on and still bugging critics!

  1. David Sibley // November 14, 2017 at 8:10 pm // Reply

    So bad, it’s good! One of my favourite sci-fi movies because it was a satire – but not the first time intellectual poseurs, aka, film critics, missed the point as you say, Watchman. The book is far more serious but still a great read. I wonder if there are Starship Trooper re-enactors out there, like the 501st! Thanks, man, good to look back at what is actually a classic.


  2. Really one of my guilty pleasures this one. It may be a bit cheesy at times, but it really was a lot of fun to watch. I’m probably going to rewatch this one at some point next year. It’s been a while 😀


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