It’s been twenty years since the Bug War started when an asteroid dropped out of a clear blue sky and destroyed Buenos Aires, since Earth retaliated with a disastrous attempt to attack the arachnid homeworld of Klendathu, since a major strategic victory was claimed on Planet P where a Brain Bug was captured by a front-line Private named Zim.
In those two decades the war has ploughed on with incursions on both sides, but while the bug threat remains constant the Earth has changed, the political situation ever more extreme with the reins of power fully seceded to the new Sky Marshal Amy Snapp who answers only to her endless quest for ratings approval and tolerates no dissent as she gives speeches to empty halls which echo with rapturous recorded applause.
Colonel Johnny Rico’s station is less lofty, on Mars Orbital Federation Base Nemesis, a training facility where his current recruits look to have even less chance of a career in the service than he has forged, watching as the ships pass overhead on their way to a major engagement in the Arachnid Quarantine Zone which will require the full resources of the fleet.
On board the John A Warden, Captain Carmen Ibañez is in the thick of a battle going badly wrong when she receives a telepathic message from her old schoolmate General Carl Jenkins telling her to get back to Mars and to find Johnny, that something is happening, even as back in the home system a level four infestation erupts on the surface of the red planet…
Written by Edward Neumeier who scripted RoboCop and all three live action Starship Troopers films as well as serving as an executive producer on the previous animated feature Invasion, there is a consistency of setting and themes which runs through them to Traitor of Mars but unlike the short-lived animated spin-off series Roughnecks there is a lack of character in the new recruits whose plan of attack seems to consist largely of dying.
Directed by Invasion‘s Shinji Aramaki in collaboration with Masaru Matsumoto, Luci Christian, Justin Doran and Leraldo Anzaldua return from that film as the voices of Carmen Ibañez, Carl Jenkins and Sergeant Ratzass but the principal draw is the presence of Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer in their roles of Johnny Rico and the late Isabelle “Dizzy” Flores.
Despite the expanded scope afforded by an animated production the ambition feels low and despite the constant profanity the plotting is almost childishly simple, and while a popularity-obsessed narcissist starting a war to silence political opposition should be topical and ripe for satire Shapps is a bland caricature, a shallow screeching bitch who never convinces.
Regrettably the technical shortcomings of Invasion have not been addressed and the standard of the animation, already sub-par in 2012, is now at times hopelessly inadequate in the stiff, unnatural movement and the facial expressions and lipsynching of the human characters, but nor are the less demanding aspects any better, the bugstepping of the arachnids mechanically regimented rather than organically swarming.
Perhaps understandably Rico’s appearance matches that in Invasion when it was modelled on voice performer David Matranga but it is incomprehensible why Dizzy Flores should be so obviously modelled not on Dina Meyer but on Tricia Helfer’s Caprica Six in appearance, costume and her function in the plot, projected by Jenkins into Rico’s mind to motivate and guide him; unsurprisingly, that it is in fact Carl who wakes Johnny with a kiss is rapidly glossed over.
Nor is Battlestar Galactica the only influence, with the finale involving an aerial escape from an atmospheric processor crammed full of hostile exoskeletoned aliens before it explodes, and while this is one of the better executed scenes – and there are many moments when the film is genuinely good – the overall impression of Traitor of Mars is that which has plagued Starship Troopers ever since Paul Verhoeven stepped aside, that of a derivative and unnecessary straight-to-video knockoff.
Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars is released on DVD on Monday 8th January by Sony