Montreal Film Journal


Oh yeah! Finally, a really satisfying blockbuster! Imagine "Star Wars" with better special effects, "Aliens" with a lot more bugs, "Full Metal Jacket" with sicker army training, "Platoon" with more intense war scenes, "Top Gun" with more hilariously cheesy characters, and "Braveheart" with more gore... All that plus awesome direction, a really cool cast and lots of humor. What do you get? A damn great movie, if you ask me!

The film is set in a future world in which the only people considered as citizens are the military. Earth is basically like today's, only more advanced and fascist... Oh, and we're at war with a planet of giant and deadly insects! The film begins in a 90210-style high school where practically every student is gorgeous. We follow Johnny Rico and Carmen Ibanez, a picture perfect couple on their last days of school. Rico is a perfect Aryan, with blond hair, blue eyes and really sharp cheekbones. He's a super stud, he's the star of the football team and he's rich as hell. His girlfriend is beautiful, smart and talented. Now that school's over, the couple and their nerdy friend Carl decide to become citizens, i.e. to join the army. Carl goes in the Intelligence operations, Carmen becomes a spaceship pilot and Rico joins the Mobile Infantry. There's a subplot about the couple, as Carmen's hunky trainer Zander tries to get in her pants while Rico is having trouble resisting to the flirting of tough babe Dizzy Flores. After months of training, they're all finally ready to fight the evil bugs. And for the rest of the film, they try to survive the ultra bloody war between the human race and these damn dirty insects.

Well, okay, this ain't much of a story, but at least, it doesn't take itself seriously. We recognize Paul Verhoeven's style. Like always, his direction is astonishing and the film is visually stunning and action packed. And, like "Total Recall" and "RoboCop", the film is filled with humor and gore. For example, the movie is narrated through a series of hilariously corny Internet newscasts, propaganda films and infomercials. I also dig the countless slicing, decapitating and amputating, which leads to many scenes where there are bloody corpses all over the place. The computer effects are mind-blowing. Those bugs look so cool! Flame-throwing cockroaches, scorpion-type spiders, dragonflies... and man, they're huge!

There aren't any superstars in the film, but the cast is still interesting. Casper Van Dien is really effective as Johnny Rico, the brave hero. He kinda looks like Dolph Lundgren, less buffed up but twice as macho. I also loved the gorgeous Denise Richards as Carmen. Carl is played by Neil Patrick Harris, best known as Doctor Doogie. He's kinda dorky, but he's funny. Michael Ironside is hilarious as the hard-boiled lieutenant with an arm of steel and a heart of stone. But the coolest actor in the film has to be Jake Busey. You might remember him as the undead mass murderer from "The Frighteners" or as the religious freak terrorist from "Contact". Here, he's at his best as a cocky army stud. I really like him; he's even more creepy looking than his father Gary!

You must see "Starship Troopers". It's extremely exciting, hilarious and inventive. Every single scene is fun. It's everything that's good about popcorn movies with none of the usual political correctness. Definitively the best piece of mindless entertainment of 1997.

MINDLESS??? [updated 05/05/03]

I just watched the film again and checking back on my review from 5 years ago I can't believe how little I made of the political satire. I picked up on that back then but was mostly dazzled by the awesome special FX and gore. But the picture has brains, and not only splattered on the walls!

Only people who want to go to war get respect? People who don't aren't considered citizens? Violence is the only mean to deal with problems? Whoa, it's like they foresaw the Bush administration! A lot of scenes are now more resonant than ever. There's a terrorist attack by the bugs that leaves a city in ruins à la 9/11, rabid sensationalist news coverage, bullshit buzz words ("Operation Countdown to Victory"), and then there's desert battles against Arachnids... Say it out loud; doesn't it even sound like 'Iraqui'?

As Paul Verhoeven says in his DVD commentary: "War makes fascists of everybody." His movie is a great, better-laugh-than-cry illustration of that. With lots of gore!