Johnny Rico yells to the roughnecks, “Do you want to live forever?” Machine guns fire. Giant bugs splatter. Jets fly overhead. People splatter. Spaceships burn. A coed shower. Nuclear explosions. A teenage love... triangle. Bowie. And just before he gets his brains sucked out, Xander tells the Brain Bug, “Someday, someone like me is going to kill you and your whole fucking race!”Would you like to know more?
Starship Troopers, aside from featuring more ammunition fired than any other movie to that point, is a biting social commentary on 20th century war. Paul Verhoeven’s film is a vastly different animal than Robert Heinlein’s original novel. Heinlein, a noncombat vet, developed a near-fascist opinion of justifiable warfare. He uses the novel to play out his philosophy through a serious of flashbacks wherein the characters as students debate civic duty. There is little combat in the book. Ironically, Verhoeven, a World War II civilian who witnessed more violence than Heinlein did as a soldier, creates a film brimming with action... and yet the tone and message is in direct contrast to the book. Verhoeven himself admits to getting so depressed by the first few chapters of the book that he didn’t bother to finish. He uses the novel’s base of a future war between humans and space bugs to deliver a unique antiwar message that doesn’t criticize on moral grounds, but on futility. He lampoons war by way of Hollywood showmanship but never gets preachy. The violence, effects, and drama are all blown drastically out of proportion... which makes for a great action movie, one of the greatest. Verhoeven, from experience, also places a fair amount of emphasis on naive young people set amongst the horrors of war. And where there are naive young people, there is sex.
Dizzy, the heart and breasts of the movie, is hopelessly in love with square-jawed Johnny Rico. Johnny, an infantryman, is hung up on Carmen, an air force pilot played by Denise Richards. (Ha!) Carmen’s got the hots for Xander, an older more experienced airman. Carl, the brains, has no sex drive, is psychic, and is driven by duty even if it means sacrificing all of the above characters. In what is perhaps the best casting of the movie, Carl is played by post-Doogie Howser/pre-How I Met Your Mother Neil Patrick Harris. Most of what these characters want is each other; but as mere soldiers, they are all at the whim of Carl, who’ll stop at nothing for the elusive Brain Bug... the Osama Bug Laden of the arachnids. While we’re piecing all that together, there’s a completely gratuitous coed shower scene among infantrymen and infrantrywomen. Johnny gets it on but I won’t spoil with who. Finally, the sex de résistance is the Brain Bug herself, which looks as if one overlapped a few slides from 9th grade health class. Hell, I’ll just tell you: It’s a giant vagina.
Ultimately, Starship Troopers is R-rated boy’s fantasy, which was Paul Verhoeven’s mid-career forte. (Check out Robocop & Total Recall) That’s not to say it isn’t broad and engaging enough for everybody. There’s plenty of humor, the scope is huge and the effects are amazing. In fact, the first time I saw this was with my parents who both loved it. They still do. Anyone that’s seen it has to admit that this boy’s fantasy is tailor-made. It’s about a young man torn between two hot girls, his parents getting killed by an asteroid, traveling to another planet and fighting hoards of alien bugs with his buddies. In the end, Johnny Rico wins, sort of. The war is too big for any one man’s victory to matter. Win or lose, it’s how you play, or fight, or whatever. See the goddamn movie. Did I mention the coed shower?