Saturday, September 1, 2012

Movie Review: "Starship Troopers: Invasion" (2012)

The other day, I drove up to North Fulton's last Blockbuster Video store and rented the new animated film Starship Troopers: Invasion.  Going to return it soon, but figured I'd review it first...

The Plot

The (surviving) major characters of the live-action film--Johnny Rico (now a general), Carmen Ibanez (a ship captain in her own right), and Carl Jenkins (an intelligence and ESP bigwig)--are brought back together when Carl requisitions Carmen's ship for a classified purpose he claims will win them the war.  When the Federation loses contact with the ship, Carmen and some Mobile Infantry have to get it back.

The Good

*It was a straight-up entertaining animated bug-blasting festival and was pretty fun to watch. Not necessarily all that thoughtful (see my comment on the politics), but it was still entertaining.  When I was a lot younger, I watched the animated series Starship Troopers: Roughnecks and this was a good reminder of that.

*It's an animated movie intended for adults. In the United States, animation is generally considered stuff for kids, with many attempts at using it for more mature audiences failing miserably (the awesome Titan A.E.) comes to mind.  However, outside of the U.S., animation can be used to tell more adult-oriented stories.  The movie was actually made in Japan, which is very well-known for that sort of thing.  In this case, there's much more violence (with blood), more realistic military cursing, nudity, and sex.

*It stayed out of politics entirely. The book depicted a society where one had to serve in the military (or some other dangerous sort of public service, although this is less clear) in order to vote, with the idea that if one had to sacrifice for something, one would appreciate it more and use it more wisely.  Paul Verhoeven, who was in charge of the first film, did not agree and depicted the Terran Federation as being some kind of fascist-ish regime that regulated how many children one could have, televised executions, may have tried to pass off a natural asteroid impact as an alien attack for its own purposes, and then bungled the military "response."  I don't agree with limiting the franchise in this manner ("no taxation without representation" should be reason enough), but that isn't fascistic.

Verhoeven could have made his point about fascism, war, propaganda, etc. by making an original movie and not trashing one of the best science fiction writers of the 20th Century by depicting his ideas as faux Nazism.  Thank God (I mean that) they're remaking it, and they get the bloody point.

*The movie is largely centered on Carmen, who was secondary to Johnny in the original film and is only referenced in the direct-to-video live-action sequels.  Johnny is there and he plays a pivotal role later on, but it's mostly her show.  I really wasn't expecting that.  Sci-fi action movies are generally a boys' club, but this is rather different.

*The sniper girl Trig is apparently a human from a non-Earth human colony, since she lost her family and hometown to a Bug assault. The first film depicts an asteroid strike on Buenoes Aires but otherwise it doesn't seem the Bugs have actually attacked Earth. Although in the book the Terran Federation included multiple planets, the film barely touches on human colonization of other worlds (a Mormon attempt to colonize a Bug world goes predictably badly) and although the animated TV series depicts other worlds, I don't recall any human settlements.

*Powered armor.  That was one thing they left out of the first movie (so they could depict people wearing SWAT gear getting massacred to make an antiwar point I suppose), but finally managed to bring in for the third.  In this one, like in the animated series, most of the soldiers wear roughly human-sized power suits, with the book-style uber-powered armor of the third film appearing in the climax.  On the DVD commentary, one of the people involved said by making it animated, they could depict stuff like the powered armor that would be too expensive to do live-action.

*The movie in general has some really good visuals like mangled bodies floating in zero-gravity, ship-to-ship combat, etc.  See my last comment about how you can do some stuff with animation you can't do live-action.

The Bad

*The completely gratuitous Carmen shower scene was ridiculous.  They start at her feet, pan up to her behind and come around for her breasts, all while this soft sexy music is playing.  Then she starts banging on the wall of the shower and cursing Carl for stealing her ship.  The latter is a character moment--it shows how fixated she is on the ship she commanded and getting it back--but in context, the whole scene is just aggravatingly dumb.

*Carl wasn't that much of a jerk in the first movie.  The only remotely jerky action I can recall is him telepathically prompting his ferret to bug his mother, which isn't especially jerky. In fact, even though he did dress like some escaped Nazi, it's strongly implied he used his telepathy to help Johnny rescue Carmen when her shuttle crashed in Bug territory, which is actually rather nice. One could argue that power corrupts, but Carmen flat-out tells him "you always were an asshole."  Granted, it's been years since I saw the original, but I don't remember any friction between the two of them back when they were in high school.

*During a briefing, Johnny asks Carmen out on a date, which she responds to by walking out of the briefing room.  Depicting Johnny pining after Carmen ten to twenty years after she Dear John'd him is kind of pathetic, plus since he's a general now and giving her orders, that would be really inappropriate.  It does play an important role later in the film and in context I suspect it was intended to be funny, but still.

*One of the characters has extra-sensory powers but didn't have them in the strength needed for the ESP program so he ended up a grunt.  One of the female characters gets all hot and bothered and says that this must be why he always knows when she's in the shower.

(They retain the coed showers present in the first film.)

The character's (weak) telepathy is a Chekhov's gun that should have been fired.  Given how the Bugs seem to run on the same frequencies as human telepaths (we see this to a degree in the first movie and it's a big plot point here), I would have loved to have seen this actually used somewhere. Perhaps in some key fight scene he manages to set the Bugs against each other?

*When Johnny orders the soldiers to investigate Carmen's missing ship, the soldiers agree to do it only if they let an officer who was jailed by Carl (for reasons I won't get into due to spoilers) lead them. Johnny agrees, but said this will not be prejudicial to his court-martial. The attempt to impose conditions, especially the way they did it, comes off as borderline insubordination.  It would have been better if one of the soldiers had asked more respectfully, citing said officer's record, and Johnny considered it and agreed.  THEN he can make the "this will be in no way prejudicial to his trial" comment.

*Since Casper Van Dien, who played Johnny in the original, executive-produced the film, it wouldn't have been that difficult to have him do Johnny's voice-acting.  Consider it something in the same vein as Peter Cullen always being the voice of Optimus Prime. I didn't mind the main characters being voiced by different actors than the ones who played them in the film (with the exception of Carl, who came off as really prissy at the beginning), but still.

*It was difficult to tell some of the lesser characters apart.

The Verdict

A fun romp that could have been a bit better, but I liked it better than the first movie.  7.5 out of 10.


  1. Interesting, is this showing in theatres or online?

    Also I was disapointed the linked article was so critical of the remake of the film, I find they clearly didn't get the message.

  2. The movie is direct-to-DVD. You can see trailers online if you want to see more.

    (Sorry, I just got a "do you want to know more" flash from the first movie.)

    Re: the article, it is biased and stupid, but it was the first on the Google search for the remake and a had a lot more comments from the people do the remake.

    The other article was more politically balanced, but it didn't quote the people making it as much.

    I might create an entirely new blog post dedicated to critiquing that linked article.

  3. Sounds like a cool movie - I may need to check it out