Starship Troopers is Paul Verhoeven's attempt at a sci-fi epic. A entire new world is created with a presentation similar to Star Wars, but lacking the visionary expertise; Verhoeven creates a world of war that is visually stunning but inhabited by idiots who have a passionate love for mass violence. I would criticize the script's dialogue -- written by Edward Neumeier who surprisingly did the much more impressive script for RoboCop (1987) -- if it didn't fit well with the plot make specifically for simpletons, but it does and I found its cheesy-ness to be bitterly entertaining. Compared to Verhoeven's brilliant, humanistic sci-fi classic, RoboCop , Starship Troopers falls short in all categories, but its entertainment value is sky high.
As a loose adaptation of Robert H. Heinlein classic novel of the same name, Verhoeven's vision clusters all of Heinlein's political and social views together which makes it impossible, and unnecessary, to think to much into them. The book was controversial for its well thought out views of fascism and militarism; the film was controversial for the same reasons, but they don't bother me because they are so poorly formed and represented in a way that is too silly to take seriously.
In the Federation citizenship is reached by those who are willing to serve and protect their country in a futuristic military. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) and Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) are three friends who decide to join the federation after graduating from high school. Carmen and Carl are able to take advanced positions, while Johnny must join the infantry. The film primarily follows Johnny through his journey from impressive recruit, to shamed officer, and finally ending with him as a hero in his own right. Casper Van Dien's performance is not as bad as his character's one-dimensional set-up that cripples any emotional attachment, with saying that, he has the action star appearance that works wonderfully in all action scenes.
The boot camp scenes less entertaining due to the poorly done love-affairs between Johnny and his two love interests, Carmen and Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), another high school classmate. They are just pointless and a waste valuable time that could have been used by the future gory battle scenes and space explosions. Although, the boot camp is at its best with the training scenes and its surprisingly darker tone shift -- during a live-shot training exercise Johnny tries to help a fellow officer who is having a helmet problem but taking the soldier's helmet off leaves his head unprotected and he is accidentally shot. With that tone shift the film's dumb fun qualities finally start to let loose.
Right before Johnny returns home, his hometown of Buenos Aires is destroyed by an asteroid dropped by the planet Klendathu which is populated by violent arachnids, simply called "Bugs."The Bugs are a highlight of the film's splendid visual effects, the Tanker Bugs are especially well crafted. This film uses insects as villains and it does a good job at it. Verhoeven doesn't give them distinct characteristics, but he does toy with the idea of their desire for intelligence which impressed me. At this point the film ceases being just a boring, poorly plotted, futuristic soap opera and becomes the visually awing, ultra-violent, still futuristic, war epic. On the first invasion of Klendathu the Federation suffers mass loses; Johnny is badly wounded and barely saved which leads to him being mistakenly marked as KIA. Johnny and some of his other surviving members are reassigned to a group called the "Roughnecks" who are lead by Johnny's high school teacher, Lieutenant Jean Rasczak -- played with a father figure personality and a fantastic, brutish, masculinity by Michael Ironside.
The second invasion of Klendathu is more successful, but it is discovered that the Bugs are sucking intelligence out of the brains of some of their victims which causes panic. After this highly satisfying invasion where the film actions is at its best the film begins to drag on, struggling to find the right way to end. The poorly contrived love-affairs resurface and the action's appeal fades. Verhoeven almost lets the film slip away at the last possible moment, but miraculously the ending really works. And looking back at the overall experience I definitely can say that I would watch it again. Extreme violence that is put with a plot that is so harmless that it just has to be fun.
Verhoeven knows how he wants he vision to look, his daring reluctance to use the controversial political views of the source material proves to be smart. Opinions of Starship Troopers were mixed, but the films visual effects were rightfully nominated for an Academy Award. Now it has developed a dedicated cult following, like many of Verhoeven's films -- even the atrocious Showgirls (1995) - and the cheap entertainment has not diminished one bit. Don't expect the sci-fi epic Verhoeven sees this as being, instead watch this for the purpose of watching something that makes you consistently ask yourself "why am I liking this piece of crap?"