Welcome, citizens, to the To Infinity Retrospective, a series created in preparation for Star Wars 9. On the first day of each month, a different Space Opera will be reviewed. And it is your civic duty to read them all. This month, we’ll be covering the 1997 action-satire, Starship Troopers, a film as dense with subtext as it is with blood and boobs. Would you like to know more?
Done in the style of Nazi propaganda, Starship Troopers tells the story of Johnny Rico, a young man living in a society where the only way to become a citizen is to join the Military. Johnny initially has no interest, but when his girlfriend, Carmen, enlists, he does so as well. And, wouldn’t you know it, as soon as Johnny’s in, his hometown is attacked by arachnid-like aliens, and war is declared on the “bugs.”
Starship Troopers was a hotly anticipated film back in 1997. It was the latest feature from Paul Verhoeven, the man behind Total Recall and RoboCop. But when it premiered, people didn’t know what to think of it. It did eventually find its audience on home video, and, many years later, critics began to re-evaluate it. Something they appreciated was how, beneath the film’s glossy surface, there was a layer of smart satire. Granted, that satire isn’t really subtle–the uniforms are modeled off of those of the Third Reich, there are shots taken directly from Triumph Of The Will, and Verhoeven’s openly called it a parody–so I have a hard time believing people were too stupid to pick up on it. Whatever the case, the film does work as satire, telling a story that seemingly glorifies fascism while simultaneously ridiculing it. This was deliberate since the novel this film is based on is very sincere in its espousal of the idea that people must serve their country in order to vote. Granted, I liked the book, and hope that, someday, we can get a faithful adaptation, but on its own, the film is entertaining enough. The battles are exciting, the effects are top notch, and if you don’t care about satire, it’s got lots of blood, and lots of boobs. So there’s that.
At the same time, I can’t really say I like this movie. It’s got really terrible acting, for one. Yes, this is a satire, and you could make the argument that the wooden performances are meant to highlight the artificiality of the propaganda we’re watching, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s bad. And remember how I said there is a lot of blood and lots of boobs? I wasn’t joking. There are many moments where the female characters will walk around completely nude for no reason, like in a co-ed shower scene, and the violence is super over-the-top. And not in a manner that’s highlighting the horror of war. The way Verhoeven shoots the blood splattering everywhere is close to pornographic. Granted, sex and violence are staples of his films, so I’m not surprised. Still, they’re both so excessive that it does get distracting, and if you’re a feminist, you probably won’t like how women are portrayed. Make of this what you will.