STARSHIP TROOPERS: Would You Like To Know More? [Two Cents]

by Brendan Foley

Two Cents

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick
 “It’s an ugly planet. A Two Cents planet! A planet hostile to li–” *gets mutilated by giant vagina-bug*

Released to a baffled and infuriated audience in 1997, Starship Troopers enraged fans of Robert Heinlein’s classic novel with its open disregard for his text and contempt for his themes, while simultaneously leaving general audiences confused by its (seemingly) obliviously chipper fascist attitudes.

But a devoted cult following sprang up around the film, and it has only grown in volume and noise in the years since. Today, the film is widely regarded as a underloved continuation of Paul Verhoeven’s masterful Robocop, and a bleakly prescient examination of wartime life almost a half-decade before the US would find itself plunged into seemingly endless conflict.

With a different sort of space conflict film due to be hitting cinemas fairly soon, the Two Cents team decided to wade into the guns and grue of humanity’s battle with the Arachnids. Does Verhoeven’s satire retain its punch all these years later, or is Starship Troopers just a hunk of loud sci-fi cheese? Find out below!

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick: With a new hope appearing with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Two Cents team wanted to pay tribute to the legacy of one of the most formative film franchises of the modern era. To that end, next week we will be watching Jamie Benning’s Star Wars Begins, a “Filmumentary” project that combines deleted scenes, interviews, alternate takes and shots, all working to get at the heart of how George Lucas and his team of actors, designers, and craftsmen worked to wrangle move magic out of the most unlikely of projects.

Benning’s documentary is available for free on his Vimeo page. Give it a watch (and if you love it check out his others, which cover the rest of the Star Wars Trilogy, Jaws, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark) and give us a shout, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)!

Our Guests

Nick Spacek:Starship Troopers is either a movie you like or you don’t. There are valid reasons to find it unappealing. You can certainly quibble with quite a few things: all the people living in Buenos Aires are very (and in the case of Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris, very very very) white, the themes are essentially fascistic in nature, and the acting is pretty wooden. That said, it’s hard to watch this movie and not end up ridiculously entertained, because the positives easily deflate any criticism of the negatives. The use of grizzled actors such as Clancy Brown and Michael Ironside only manages to show the absolute greenness of the new recruits, and also lends some much-needed acting prowess to the affair. The interstitials are brilliant, and the way they mimic old newsreels does a nice job of playing up the fact that this is essentially a very bloody update of the ’40s war pictures like They Were Expendable or Twelve O’Clock High. It’s the very epitome of taking something that’s been done dozens of times and putting a fresh spin on it to create a film that also manages to endure nearly 20 years later.

George Abboud:Excellent sci-fi action, satire that’s a bit more heavy-handed than some people like to admit, and the most underrated alien in cinema. (@GeorgeAbboud94)

Brendan AgnewPaul Verhoven’s best films are the gifts that keep on giving. To a younger teen, something like Robocop or Total Recall is wicked entertainment with a cool gimmick, but once you have the capacity to dig deeper, you find something genuinely smart beneath the gleeful machismo and ridiculous violence.

And perhaps none of his films exemplify this more than Starship Troopers.

That the film works as spectacle on its own is impressive enough (because Verhoven does know his kabooms), and that it hasn’t aged as poorly as a LOT of other digital-heavy 90’s actioners is near-miraculous (thanks to Phil “Jurassic Park” Tippet). But the film, structured and framed as militaristic propaganda, manages to feel even more bitingly satirical in a post-9/11 world, and touts a fascist streak that bears far more similarity to actual rhetoric rather than an exaggerated send-up thereof.

However — and here’s perhaps the film’s biggest triumph — it’s still enjoyable. The tone balances deftly between splatterhouse war film, pitch-black political commentary, and teen soap opera, and still manages to coalesce into a functional whole. Verhoven knows exactly when to wallow in action, cut to a video bit or let Poledouris’ score speak for itself, and creates a heretical adaptation that’s still a brilliant film. (@BLCAgnew)

Trey Lawson: Starship Troopers is pretty goofy, for a movie about a quasi-fascistic government waging war against an army of alien bugs. On second thought, with a premise like that maybe it’s just the right amount of goofy. Rather than a direct adaptation of the novel, Verhoeven and screenwriter Neumeier transformed the story into a satire of 1950s sci-fi (and the military-industrial complex that began in that same decade). Pretty young actors (and Jake Busey) enlist in various branches of military and tow the party line in the fight against the arachnids, and just in case the point isn’t clear enough the film is peppered with trademark Verhoeven fake ads and news broadcasts a la Robocop. Subtlety is not the name of the game here, but for the most part the film walks a tightrope between not taking itself too seriously and avoiding outright parody. It works, in part, because the satire is contrasted with frequent, surprisingly gory violence. That, plus some very good creature effects from Phil Tippett and the presence of fan-favorite genre actors like Clancy Brown and Michael Ironside, make this an enjoyable sci-fi/action throwback. (@T_Lawson)

The Team

Justin:I’m doing my part… but not by joining the mobile infantry, just by writing my Two Cents contribution on this week’s selection Starship Troopers.

As a high schooler, this was a fave of mine for a solid year. While the satire and commentary is what has kept it relevant in my film diet, but I’m pretty sure that my initial attraction to the film was primarily the scenes of gratuitous nudity, notably the shower scene.

The cast is stellar, filled with future stars, genre stalwarts, and Jake Fucking Busey. The set pieces are great. The story is engaging and wonderfully pulpy. As noted above, the commentary is pointed and the film is wholly self-aware.

Honestly, what’s not to like? Revisiting this for the first time in a few years was great fun, so I guess a thank you to the Two Cents team leaders is in order. (@thepaintedman)

James:Robert A. Heinlein’s bonkers sci-fi fascist tract about the escalating (and needless) war between humanity and giant space insects is given a knowingly silly satirical shakeup thanks to Dutch enfant terrible Paul Verhoeven and fellow Robocop cohort Edward Neumeier. What results is a bizarre cinematic hybrid; part big-budget sci-fi action spectacular; part cheesy Buenos Aires 90210 teen-angst drama; all deceptively sharp satirical barbs on the wrongness of Western foreign policy and their ‘MURICA! FUCK YEAH!’ attitude.

One of the most marmite films to emerge from the Cinescape in recent years, Starship Troopers revels in polarising the public, with some unable to get past the square-jawed stereotypes, boneheaded plotting and stilted dialogue. Still disturbingly relevant nearly two decades later, Verhoeven’s mischievous storytelling gets away with it, deftly combining provocative social commentary (understandably influenced by his own experiences growing up in Nazi-occupied Holland), with equal-opportunities nudity, wanton insectoid brain-sucking, and epic man vs bugs battles.

Verhoeven’s exhilarating, clever Starship Troopers has made me want “to know more” for nigh-on twenty years now. Whether that’s working out who’s in on the joke (be it the eclectic/bewildered cast, the actual audience themselves), or another awesome brain-sucking scene, depends on my mood. Usually the latter. (@jconthagrid)

Brendan:“One of a kind” is really the only phrase that applies to Starship Troopers. Paul Verhoeven took a pile of money for the purported purpose of making a tentpole sci-fi action film, and he returned with perhaps the most epic troll in cinema history, a movie that mercilessly mocked the source material, the genre, the cast, the audience, and, you know, America.

What’s most impressive about the film is how perfectly it works as that epic sci-fi action. The special effects hold up spectacularly well, with the practical gore and bug effects especially being next-level in their grisly brilliance. Verhoeven took his own high watermark work from Robocop and cranked it up to eleven with corpses being shredded into pieces or reduced to still-wailing piles of goo and viscera. It’s fucking rad.

And best of all is that subversive streak, that willingness to constantly undercut every moment of humanity and triumph. Verhoeven understood the inherent fascism of Hollywood’s flavor of action, and he savages that tendency with every frame, right down to dressing his ‘heroes’ in overtly Nazi garb. No other filmmaker alive possesses such a clear eye of the hideous face beneath American culture, and no other filmmaker possesses Verhoeven’s ability to bring that warped face to repulsive, fascinating life. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin:When I first watched Starship Troopers, my response was one of confusion. Not because I didn’t get the joke, but because I was uncomfortable with the ethical dilemma of rooting for the bad guys. But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that this film had accomplished something special.

Earth is clearly the invasive force in this conflict, but some of the gung-ho characters like Sgt. Zim, Lt. Rasczak, and Pvt. Levy are so darn charming in their delusional mission that you can’t help but root for them. Both Verhoeven and writer Ed Neumeier definitely played up this angle of moral crux for all it was worth, trusting the audience to have the cognitive dissonance to get the joke while also getting invested in these characters and enjoying the show. (@VforVashaw)

“American critics always complain about the blandness of mainstream movies, but when you do something more ambiguous and ironic, they are pissed off too. I like putting certain aspects of American society under the magnifying glass and showing them for what they are.”


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