Ah, Starship Troopers. The movie that critics and audiences hated upon release because they didn’t get the supposed satire, but has since improved in the eyes of many—particularly after directed Paul Verhoeven released a DVD commentary that explained it. But, you know what? I get the negativity. There’s a lot that’s just downright terrible, satire or not. And I didn’t have a ton of fun with it.
It takes a long time to get to the action, which means that the first half is focused on the characters. In most movies, that’s not a bad idea. Let us know who’s who and why we should care, then put them in a situation in which their lives are in peril. None of the characters are worth the investment. Most of them are poorly acted and just as thinly defined. They’re high schoolers who go to the military and then have to fight some Bugs. “Bugs” is the name of the species, but also a decent description of the enemy used as fodder in the movie. They look like giant bugs, existing only to be an enemy in a film like this one; they serve no other purpose in this universe.
The best parts of Starship Troopers revolve around the way that society has turned out. The film takes place in a future in which your citizenship is earned by your military service, your right to vote is earned, and Big Brother is watching you. It’s a fascist society, one that looks good but whose goals are (1) to fight and die in the military and (2) almost nothing else. And that’s the point of the movie. That’s clever. The rest? Not really.
It looks like a movie made in the 1950s, and is indeed based on a book written in that decade. It looks cheap, even though it wasn’t, and is filmed and acted like everyone is a second away from bursting out laughing—leading to some of the most wooden performances you’ll see in a Hollywood production. The special effects, particularly for the Bugs, are outstanding and seem to account for about 90% of the budget. And the propaganda segments are hilarious and liven things up a bit.
Starship Troopers is a dreary bore, one with poor characters, worse acting, a cheap look, and some decent-looking aliens.
The action is fine but repetitive. Soldiers shoot the Bugs with hundreds of bullets, often to not much effect, and then die. Rinse and repeat at night, during the day, in a cave, and so on. It gets dull, and when you care precisely zero for anyone involved, it makes it hard to stomach the boredom. There is some other, non-satirical comedy scattered throughout the film, which helps, but it’s not enough to make the two-plus-hour film not feel like it’s way too long and very lacking. I like camp and B-movie tongue-in-cheek proceedings, but I found the film dull.
Starship Troopers lacks the depth of a RoboCop and somehow places lower on a sheer entertainment level, too. It is, obviously, not the biggest Paul Verhoeven misfire, coming just two years after Showgirls, but it’s not up there with his great films, like the aforementioned RoboCop or the thrill ride that is Total Recall. These are sci-fi movies that don’t forget that, even if you’ve got a point to get across, it’s okay to have fun doing it. Much of this movie lacks fun, lacks joy, and simply bores.
Starship Troopers is infused with satire condemning a militarist, fascist society. It has some funny propaganda scenes, its ideas about the turns our society will take in the next couple of centuries are interesting, if nothing else. But the film is a dreary bore, one with poor characters, worse acting, a cheap look, and some decent-looking aliens. The action gets repetitive, and since we don’t care about the people involved, it’s hard to overlook that. Paul Verhoeven should have remembered his previous sci-fi movies that worked before making Starship Troopers.
Conclusion: Starship Troopers has some clever satire, but doesn’t provide enough entertainment to make us care.
Recommendation: There’s some cleverness to Starship Troopers, but it bored me too much to recommend.