STARSHIP TROOPERS: Paul Verhoeven Retrospective [Two Cents]


Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

The Pick: Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven Retrospective)

We’re wrapping up 5 weeks of Paul Verhoeven picks, having covered RoboCop, Showgirls, Benedetta, Flesh + Blood, and now Starship Troopers. We tried to curate a few of the knowns and a couple of the less knowns. Some of the new, and some of the classic. Maybe someday we’ll dig in again and pull out a few other Verhoeven all-timers like Total Recall, Elle, or Basic Instinct. But for now, “would you like to know more?”

Featured Guest

Mike Scott

In my youth I was a critic for my college newspaper. As you do when you’re in your 20s you focus on the bad in movies rather than the good and try to make yourself seem much smarter than you are. One of the most scathing reviews I ever wrote was for Starship Troopers. I believe I said the acting was beneath a Dove soap commercial and Paul Verhoeven had become a pale imitation of his former self. I’ve been wrong plenty in my life, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been so wrong about a movie.

Overall, Starship Troopers is one of Verhoeven’s best, a film that takes the satire of Robocop to its logical conclusion. Starship Troopers gives us a world in which propaganda has become truth, whether we know it or not. The bugs with which we are at war are almost irrelevant to the concept of war being used to keep a society in check. In 1997 that message flew right over 21 year old me’s brain. In 2024, post 9/11, post Donald Trump, the message couldn’t be clearer.  A totalitarian society can only exist by convincing the marginalized that the reason for their plight isn’t the people in charge, but rather the “other” and then mobilizing those marginalized to fight the “other,” rather than the social and political structures that keep them marginalized in the first place. As he often is, Verhoeven was spot on with his assessment, I just wasn’t mature enough to recognize it. Instead of giving a vapid, blank performance like I originally thought, Casper Van Dien is the perfect encapsulation of someone who could be manipulated by this system, and Verhoeven uses him to full effect. What I thought was a weakness in the action, namely that our soldiers seem to continually lose battles, is in fact a strength. These are battles they were never supposed to win in the first place. A society at continual war doesn’t have time to question the decisions that led to that war. 

I would like to tell the old me that he really missed this one. Luckily current me understands that Starship Troopers is the movie Verhoeven had been building toward his entire career, and as such might be his true masterpiece. Also, Johnny Rico is a moron. Dizzy is right there.

Mike Scott is the host of the Action For Everyone podcast alongside Vyce Victus and Liam O’Donnell.

The Team

Ed Travis

Is… is Paul Verhoeven a prophet? His hair-brained sci-fi takes from RoboCop to Total Recall to Starship Troopers were just incredibly ahead of their time and Starship may be the work of his that was most misunderstood at the time of release, but which has been more fully understood to be a fascist farce as time has gone on. Watching Starship Troopers today still feels like a biting experience as our society flirts with nationalism and fascism and the use of hate to rally the troops. I’ve revisited Starship Troopers many times over the years and it’s a film that rewards revisit. As a teen upon its initial release I think I saw it as a film played straight, so it was something I thought was cool and badass, but ultimately cheesy. Later in life I became aware of the social satire components, the withholding of citizenship unless you enlist, the nazi-esque uniforms worn by our protagonists, etc. Now revisiting again, Starship Troopers is almost nothing short of a revelation as it works as an incredible visual work of epic space action, it bites and stings in all the right places as a critique of of the constant military industrial complex, and it also lands as a well-plotted journey following our (still cheesy, but intentionally so) characters through their lives as fresh-faced students and into full-blooded soldiers (nay fascists). It’s a complex movie that’ll have you cheering one minute and questioning your own motives for cheering the next. It’s phenomenal blockbuster filmmaking that, all these years later, still feels unsafe. A few personal notes are that I love how Verhoeven often works with similar casts and crews over the years and he brought back the master Basil Poledouris for the score here. I also find the bug designs to be absolutely incredible. Even all these years and hundreds of creature-features later, Starship Troopers’ iconic bugs stand the test of blended practical and visual effects time. And, of course, there’s that love triangle between Casper Van Dien’s Johnny Rico, Denise Richards’ Carmen, and Dina Meyer’s Dizzy. Verhoeven, forgive us, for we knew not what we had in 1997.

(@Ed_Travis on X)

Justin Harlan

Likely my favorite Verhoeven film – certainly a top 2-3 (as I noted with Showgirls, as well) – Starship Troopers is a remarkably fun action film and a poignant satire on militarism and fascism, two things as prevalent in the world now as ever. The fact that so many adult humans didn’t get the satire of this film when it was released is almost hilarious (and sad) to me. As a youth, I surely didn’t get it… but I was a kid. As soon as I rewatched it early in college, I realized that the over-the-top action film I thought was just a fun nonsense film when I was 15 was so much more.

Of course, the sex scene, the shower scene, and the insane action sequences remain a blast, but so many of the film’s moments resonate with me now in such a more meaningful way. Seeing the fascistic ideals in the film’s text and subtext hits harder than ever in this post-Trump world. The film still remains a delight to watch, even as its satire bites hard, though. Certain allegorical films about such topics have begun to feel too heavy for me, but I rewatch this one at least yearly these days.

This all said, I genuinely love this film and am happy we were able to wrap up this month of Verhoeven with something so fun and potent. And, yes… I would like to know more.

(@thepaintedman on X)

Starship Troopers Writing on Cinapse

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