One of the most misunderstood films of the past 20 years, one's opinion of Starship Troopers relies largely on one's ability to recognize irony and satire. Much like the film Lance wrote about yesterday, Robocop, this film is much more than the sci-fi shoot 'em up most people regard it to be.
Starship Troopers is based on a late 1950's-era novel by science fiction author Robert Heinlein. Heinlein's novel was criticized by the sci-fi community for its militaristic themes. How militaristic? 50 years later, it's still on the reading list for the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines.
Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film version keeps those militaristic themes but turns them upside down. He claims he never even finished Heinlein's book because he found it "boring and depressing." Indeed Verhoeven claims on the director's commentary for the dvd that his film's intended message is that "War makes fascists of us all" and that it was a satire of American militarism, not a promotion of it like its source material.
You really wouldn't need the dvd commentary to explain that to you if you're paying attention to the film. The movie succeeds because the viewer starts off rooting for the "good guys," the humans, who are under attack by the bugs. But as the film goes on, we start to notice the theme.
For one thing, there's an absurd love of violence and disregard for human life in this future society. For another, it becomes clear that the bugs are merely defending themselves from human aggression. Furthermore, there are all those clever parodies of propaganda films shown throughout. Then there's the fact that those uniforms they wear a little too closely resemble those worn by members of Germany's Third Reich. Doogie Howser's character is basically a space version of Dr. Mengele. When he reads the captured bug's mind and the end and declares triumphantly, "It's scared!," so are we. But not of the bugs.
Then there are the protagonists. They're just...sorta...stupid. It's no coincidence the wooden-but-sculpted Casper Von Diem was cast in the lead role. Verhoeven wanted a Nordic-looking superman. Rico's not supposed to be smart; he's not supposed to ask questions. He's supposed to hate and kill bugs. The main character is nothing but the perfect soldier. It always amuses me when people complain about the acting in this film. These vapid but good-looking actors were cast because they were vapid and good-looking. This is Denise Richards' best role (well, other than Wild Things, obviously); it's made for her.
The film itself mostly works as an action flick; although, the whole thing has an aura of absurdity that leaves irony-impaired viewers (who often share the aggressive mindset the film critiques) to say things like, "That movie's hella stupid. It's just about killing a bunch of bugs."
Hint: It's not the movie that's stupid.
Nolanometer Final Grade: B+