Starship Troopers: adapted by Ed Neumeier from the novel by Robert Heinlein; directed by Paul Verhoeven; starring Casper Van Dien (Johnny Rico), Dina Meyer (Dizzy Flores), Denise Richards (Carmen Ibanez), Jake Busey (Ace Levy), Neil Patrick Harris (Carl Jenkins), Clancy Brown (Zim) and Michael Ironside (Rasczak) (1997): Like Neumeier and Verhoeven’s Robocop, Starship Troopers bites the hand that feeds it: it’s a corrosive satire of action movies disguised as an action movie. That it took a beloved novel by a beloved sf author (Robert Heinlein) and turned it into such a satire antagonized some of its intended audience. So it goes. 16 years after its release, it’s more relevant than ever as both a critique of action blockbusters and as a critique of American society.
Because here’s the toxic brilliance of Starship Troopers: it asks you to cheer for the Nazis. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof, an Earth Federation with military uniforms closely modelled on those of the Third Reich, a Federation established by a military coup where only people who’ve served in the military are full citizens with voting rights. An Earth Federation at war with an alien race dubbed ‘The Bugs.’ ‘Vermin,’ ‘bugs,’ and ‘insects’ were all standard racial epithets directed at Jewish people by anti-Semites of the early 20th century. Would you like to know more?
So Earth faces an enemy about which its citizens can righteously cry, “Kill them all!” without guilt. Because who likes bugs, especially giant ones? Did the bugs really manage to hit Earth with an asteroid to provoke all-out war, given that the galactic map we’re shown puts the bug home-world on the other side of the galaxy? And given that every bug-occupied world we’re shown is a desert wasteland, why is humanity in competition with them for living room?
Because, as Internet wags have noted, the plot of this version of Starship Troopers bears a marked resemblance to the dark fantasies of 9/11 Truthers. A devastating strike on civilians. A sudden ram-up to war. An inhuman enemy. Endless propaganda. War without end.
It’s downright creepy. Verhoeven endured a childhood under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, and a fascination with repulsive levels of violence and the fascist authorities that love such violence has informed much of his work. This is a satire of a fascist society addicted to violence and spectacle. And much of the spectacle of the movie’s visual effects still delivers — the bugs look terrific and unearthly, and remain one of the great CGI triumphs of the 25 years or so of CGI effects.
Does an audience’s love of on-screen violence and spectacle, and of heroic, larger-than-life characters, spring in part from the fascist within? The on-going onslaught of lavish, apocalyptic superhero movies suggests an infatuation with violence as a solution to all problems, and a waning belief in the ability of puny humans to solve problems. Better to let the engorged, armored, superheroic penises solve everything. Normal isn’t exciting enough. Highly recommended.