Paul Verhoeven's often electrifying Starship Troopers is a $100 million B-movie, and proud of it. Based on writer Robert Heinlein's '59 novel, it's a tongue-in-cheek tale of futuristic war, disgracefully entertaining and sensationally camp. It delivers everything it promised - - massed legions of CG aliens, leviathan spacecruisers, blasted cityscapes and eager tattooed marines firing portable nukes. Starship Troopers is an event movie in every sense of the word, a thrill-ride basking in loud, pulpy megaviolence. This movie has all the style and enormity of a summer blockbuster. And it's only January...
Yet Starship Troopers is a film of two halves - the second more exhilarating than the first. Part one is the half-hour segment set aside for background and character development. After a teasing glimpse of Man-versus-Bug combat, the film flashes back to Buenos Aires High, where we meet Beverley Hills 90210 cast-offs Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer and Denise Richards. See how these two-dimensional Aryans live in a totalitarian, fascist society; watch as they proudly enlist in Earth's jackbooted army ("We've got the ships, we've got the guns, we want you!" proclaims the recruitment video); and sigh as they struggle through a Full Metal Jacket-style training camp en route to grey-suited grunthood.
Plodding and clichéd, this is almost an anti-climax. You might even start to hate it if you don't know that, just 30 minutes down the line, your eyes will be rudely and repeatedly assaulted by some of the most outstanding special effects you'll see this year. Yet there's actually a great deal to enjoy in the first third of Starship Troopers. Most notably, Verhoeven takes a leaf out of the old Robocop book with a series of farcical newsreels. "Everyone is doing their part. Are you?" blurts the propaganda machine as small children meet smiling marines and heartily stamp on cockroaches. Here, Verhoeven begs you to care about the film's characters, fills in the necessary background detail and introduces the subplot. It's a taster of what to expect from the bits between the ensuing carnage.
Wade through this and it's on to part two - - the Bug war, a relentless onslaught of breathtaking special effects and satisfying überviolence. The invasion of the aliens' homeworld, Klendathu, is a thrilling sequence that leaves you giddy with excitement, high on paramilitary adrenaline and desperate for more. Verhoeven duly obliges, following the extraordinary panorama of mile-long starships, fighter bombers and landing craft with a savage night attack on the ill-equipped soldiers by thousands of shockingly believable arachnids.
It's here where most of the budget has gone. On razor-limbed Warrior Bugs, fire-belching Tanker Bugs, Plasma Bugs and flying Hopper Bugs. Expertly realised with dazzling CG graphics, they swarm over the barren ground, a wave of 15-foot insects, fierce, emotionless, all but unstoppable. Mandibles carve through the fleeing Troopers with sensational ease, forelimbs stab, jaws shred and the first wave of gung-ho teens is ruthlessly exterminated. "One hundred thousand dead in one hour," intones the newsreel announcer. It's incredible stuff.
In short, this is uproarious, incredibly entertaining hokum, a twisted space opera that blends World War Two combat, fascist propaganda, Westerns, Zulu and Full Metal Jacket, a meaty slab of napalm-singed testostertainment. Yes, it's devoid of critical merit - this is, after all, violent eye-candy accompanied by terrible dialogue ("They've sucked his brains out!"). But if you enjoy it as the shallow, immensely gratifying sci-fi thrill carnival it so obviously is, then Starship Troopers triumphs where The Lost World and Twister failed. See it. Be amazed. And then see it again.
Verhoeven decapitates, dissects and impales the stinking corpse of Showgirls, holding it aloft and proclaiming, "I'm back!" Starship Troopers is an epic, jaw-dropping film. Not perfect, by any means, but addictive and hugely entertaining.