In the latest shopping trip to the cheaper end of DVD sales, I noticed that there were several copies of the 2004 film, ‘Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation’ in every shop I went into. This normally means that either a new box set has just been released or that it’s not a very good film. Given the pedigree of its predecessor, Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 exemplary satire “Starship Troopers”, I took a punt on it being the former. This proved to be wrong. Very, very wrong.
Fairness dictates that we begin with all the good bits. All the cast, made up of an IMDB dive into “oooh, they were in that…” territory, put in a very steady journeyman effort. No one is awful, and occasionally some moments are allowed rise to quite good. At the very least they all manage to look like a bunch of attractive people that really did pay attention when told how to move and act like soldiers. The story is reasonably robust and includes sufficient moments of gunfire, fight scenes, and gore to make it undeniably an action horror film. The special effects, sets, and costumes hold up well, rounding off the mid-level competency by still looking okay, for the money spent on them, fifteen years on.
The biggest fault it has is that it’s just very, very dull. The whole thing feels like a half-hour anthology show stretched mercilessly into the final 92 minutes, with padding visibly showing. We are introduced to over 20 characters, but only a quarter actually do much to the story. The rest are there to show that the aliens are deadly and that the stakes are high, and have personalities to match. To make it worse, the direction and visuals are masterclasses in minimal effort, steadily lowering the tension through a mix of overt signalling and monotonous pace.
Pretty damning stuff in itself, but it’s made immeasurably worse by being a Starship Troopers film. The casual viewer will be swung from disappointment at not seeing the larger universe being hinted at, to being utterly bewildered as that world is dumped on them, explanation-free, in the final moments. Whilst fans of the original film will be frustrated by the lack of any real development in the story, they will also be annoyed at not seeing any development in the world they know, with less eloquent versions of well-worn themes. Even the few attempts at satire end up feeling out of place, as it jumps from bog standard “war is hell” nihilism, to propaganda wrought in technicolour crayon. Had it been an unbranded space war it would be passable late-night TV fare, but standing it by the original kicks it down into a world of awful it just can’t escape from.
The three worst moments are, surprisingly for something of this budget, not SFX or acting related. Skillfully pulling defeat from the jaws of a no-score draw, this goes to the writer. The first is a blatant bit of what I call Pottering: with the head psychic blatantly ignoring visions of death in favour of pointless ego-waving. Yes, it establishes him as a jerk and allows the plot to happen, but it also makes you ask just how thick he is. The next is when the aliens explain their motives, which is ridiculous as everything is covered by “we’re aliens, duh!!” and they don’t really need to justify getting all genocidal in humanities’ face. Finally, leaving the worst ‘til last, is a bit of pointless self sacrifice. It tries to be all emotional and heroic, playing on the title of the film, but falls flat as the survivors could have just ignored something they don’t care about and there was enough time for everyone to get out alive even if they had stopped for coffee.
This is so obviously a low effort cash-in that it hurts and I’m glad I got it second hand without directly rewarding the producers of it. It’s not possible to encourage viewing it on any level, as it’s just a thing that’ll be on your screen and then exit your life forever. Please, don’t make the same mistake I did and watch it out of even the mildest of curiosity. It’s unsalvageable trash and there has to be something better to do with your time.