Can it really be fifteen years since Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers was released? Taking the structure and events of Robert A Heinlein‘s source novel, often dismissed as fascist propaganda, it was a violent and outrageous satire on the futility of the military mindset, the eager young men and women of the Terran Federation throwing themselves on the meat grinder of the war against the bugs of Klendathu.
Two direct-to-video sequels and a single curtailed season of the groundbreaking Verhoeven produced animated show Roughnecks followed, and it is that which the new animated feature Starship Troopers: Invasion most resembles, at least visually.
Kicking off with a rescue mission on the asteroid base Fort Casey, overrun with bugs, the survivors take flight in the starship Alesia, pursuing the ship John A Warden which abandoned them during the attack for reasons unknown when it should have been acting as evacuation vessel.
Catching up with the Warden in a nearby nebula and boarding it, the combined strike forces find a new threat aboard, the Queen Bug, who plans to use the weaponry of the Warden against Earth.
Between the A-1 and K-12 teams a great many new characters are introduced, possibly too many to come to know in the rush of pursuit and battle – Lieutenant Tony Daugherty, Major Henry “Hero” Varro, Lieutenant Otis “Bugspray” Hacks, the sniper Trig, Holyman, Ice Blonde, Ratzass and Mech, but fortunately there are also familiar names, though not voiced by their original actors: Johnny Rico is now a general and Carl Jenkins is Minister of Paranormal Warfare; only Captain Carmen Ibañez has remained in Fleet, responsible for the John A Warden until it was seized. She still remembers the fate of the Rodger Young in the assault on Planet P, and is determined that the same fate shouldn’t befall the Warden.
While competent in technical achievement, the functionality of the storyline makes no attempt to provide anything more than basic entertainment, nor does it compete with modern cinema level computer generated effects, though in some places the limitations are an asset.
Director Shinji Aramaki’s trademark power armour, for example, harks back to Roughnecks and so the source novel rather than the film, and its mechanical presence makes the motion of the characters seem less artificial; the first appearance of Carmen Ibañez is a clear example of how bad this can be, her painfully artificial locomotion, presumably meant to be feminine, more indicative of a recent hip replacement.
Another strike against the multiple characters is that they seem to be drawn on stock frames differentiated only by surface details, skins worn as decoration rather than unique bodies, and given the amount of time spent in power suits, identification can be problematic.
Out of uniform presents another issue: it is ridiculous for the female characters to walk around in revealing skintight bodysuits designed to incite breakdowns of discipline while the male characters maintain a more professional appearance.
Curiously, only the female characters are shown in lingering shower scenes, indicating the target market is not so much narrow as shallow, though at least we are spared actual cartoon sex, but where the animation excels is in the ship exteriors and the hardware, the elaborate sets such as the engine room and bridge of the John A Warden and the bugs themselves, as terrifying when they swarm as at the cinema.
Though many elements are drawn from other sources – the motion tracker is an exact copy of that used by the Colonial Marines in Aliens and the gravity restoration aboard the Warden owes a similar debt to Event Horizon – others should have perhaps remained on the drawing board, such as Rico’s rocket powered rollerskates of death.
While the copious blood and dismemberments certainly owe more to executive producer Edward Neumeier, writer of both the original film and Robocop, than the family friendly restraint of Roughnecks, the liberal doses of irony he brought to those scripts could possibly have elevated this from an undemanding guilty pleasure to something more substantial.
Starship Troopers: Invasion is now available on DVD and Blu-ray