starship troopers invasion

Starship Troopers: Invasion

What do you do if two attempts at a live-action Starship Troopers sequel falter on video shelves? Blow the whole damn thing up and start over from the beginning. Ignoring the established canon of Starship Troopers 2 and Starship Troopers 3 — two movies that, to be fair, seem only vaguely aware of each other’s existence — Starship Troopers: Invasion starts from scratch, re-booting the franchise as an animated action movie in the vein of countless video game sequences. In this film, Johnny Rico is a high-ranking member of the Federation, Carmen Ibanez is a starship commander looking to find her missing ship, and Carl Jenkins is a psychopath who nearly sacrifices Earth itself in search for telepathically controlled bugs. The main focus, however, is on the crews of the space station Fort Casey and the starship Alesia, who join forces to face off against an Arachnid queen on a suicide mission to Earth.

The big surprise here is the quality of the visuals. Starship Troopers: Invasion was directed by renowned anime filmmaker Shinji Aramaki and, perhaps even more than the original Starship Troopers, is able to deliver the scope and scale of two species caught in an endless war. While the character modeling might seem lifted directly from an early 2000s video game cutscene, there are times in Starship Troopers: Invasion — particularly when multiple starships face off in high atmosphere — that the film achieves a kind of grim beauty. Much like with Starship Troopers 2, we see plenty of Aliens in this adaptation, but also shades of video games like Gears of War, Mass Effect, Dead Space, and, of course, the ever-present Halo franchise. Good luck telling any of the characters’ exosuits apart, but when the visuals are at their peak — like an early sequence where a Federation sniper sets up on the exterior of a spaceship — those concerns fade into the background a little bit. Good sound design and quality 3D rendering can cover a multitude of storytelling sins.

And there are plenty of storytelling sins to go around. If the second film errs on the side of horror, while the third film errs on the side of broad satire, then Starship Troopers: Invasion sheds any elements of the original film not connected to excessive violence. Gone are the FedNet sequences, the naive glorification of military service, and the subtle innuendo that humanity might be the ones at fault for this conflict. There’s no satirical jabs at the military industrial complex; Starship Troopers: Invasion is pure foxhole camaraderie. We are introduced to a battle-weary group of soldiers who profess their hatred of bugs, continue to fight bugs, and willingly sacrifice their lives so that the men (and women) next to them might live to fight again, all while the gentle sounds of automatic rifles fill the air. Even the few themes that find their way from the other movies — the corrupting power of telepathy and the rapid evolution of the Arachnids in the face of extinction — are little more than window dressing for the next major action sequence. If this is a direct sequel to Starship Troopers, then it’s most interested in the Michael Ironside scenes.

Outside of its two-dimensional character work – in every sense of the word – the worst parts of Invasion are when the film attempts to recreate beats from the original movie. From pointless nudity sequences to direct callbacks to the events of Planet P, Invasion seems determined to revisit popular Starship Troopers characters despite the fact that they are no longer the most interesting people in the movie. The frontline story told in Invasion lends itself best to anonymous grunts who die bravely and heroically on the other end of a bug claw, and maneuvering the trio of Starship Trooper standouts into the narrative often feels a little clunky at best. If you’re going to cast aside all semblance of continuity, do yourself a favor and clearly decided whether you’re all in on the returning cast or the new faces. Pray that these soldiers never run out of bullets, because when the gunfire stops and the talking starts, you’ll find yourself reaching for your phone.

starship troopers traitor of mars

Conclusion

All of which brings us to Monday’s release of Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars, another animated movie that promises to continue the adventures of Johnny Rico and his ragtag group of indistinguishable marines. This will be the second time that Casper Van Dien has returned to the franchise after a movie off; despite serving as a producer on Invasion, he didn’t bother voicing the character of Johnny Rico, which must set some kind of odd record for the number of times an actor has walked away and then returned to the character that made them famous (hell, at least Sean Connery only came back to the Bond franchise the once). Van Dien is also joined by returning star Dina Meyer, who will somehow repeat her role as the very-dead Dizzy Flores in the latest movie. Ghost? Telepathic residue? Guilt manifesting itself as a psychological hallucination? Whatever the case, expect to add Battlestar: Galactica to the list of science fiction franchises Edward Neumeier unapologetically lifts from for his films.

Whether Traitor of Mars is good, bad, or somewhere in between, it may represent the first time in the history of the franchise that there was some semblance of tonal continuity between films. Watching all four of these movies in short order makes you appreciate the rich textures of Verhoeven’s classic all that much more, where a horror movie, an existentialist religious space opera, and a hyper-violent animated movie all still feel torn from the same cloth.

Someday, some brave soul will tackle a remake of Verhoeven’s film in earnest; whatever the outcome of that film, know that it cannot possibly measure up to the delightfully unhinged mess that is the Starship Troopers cinematic universe. Good, bad, or somewhere in-between, at least they’re movies that take a stab at doing something unique with the source material. I’ll consider Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars a success as long as it does the same.

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