Do you have a movie that you absolutely love, and when you heard that there was a sequel you got incredibly excited? What new story could they cover? What more could they add to the universe of the original? So many possibilities to build upon what made the original so great, giving them a perfect opportunity to make an even greater film.
And then you watch it, and it absolutely sucks.
That was me with “Starship Troopers” and its sequel “Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation.”
See, the first movie is an absolute masterpiece in my eyes. The dystopian future, the ridiculous and gory action and the satire that, if it was any more in-your-face, you’d be wearing it like a mask. It managed to create a film that completely undermines the original imperialist and pro-military propaganda that was the original novel.
The novel, written in 1959 by Robert A. Heinlein over the course of several weeks, stands as a direct response to people calling for the end of U.S. nuclear weapons testing. He later explained that the novel was a way for him to clarify his own personal military and political views. He had hoped that the novel would create support for the testing program, targeting the youth despite many believing the novel was not appropriate for people of that age group.
The movie was originally an entirely separate entity that licensed the name from the book after making a few changes to the script. It almost acts as a middle finger to the book, pushing the bounds of the original themes to the point of satire. The film includes many allusions to war propaganda and newsreels, with the aesthetic of the Federation modeled almost directly after the Nazis.
The film was directed by Paul Verhoeven, the man behind the original “Total Recall” and “RoboCop.” He wanted to use the film to point out issues he saw with America at the time and his belief that war turns people into fascists. Much of the cinematography of the film was supposed to feel a lot like films from the 50s.
One of the bigger changes was the bugs. In the book, they were humanoid — only being called bugs in the in-universe propaganda to make them an easier enemy to rally against. Verhoeven used this as a way to get around many of the problems Hollywood had with the film idea. They couldn’t stand to think of these horrible atrocities happening to something humanoid, but they were perfectly fine if they were just bugs.
Pretty ironic if you ask me.
Now this movie was smart and incredibly well thought-out to tear apart the original themes at their core, and that’s what made it so great. So, what would this film be without that satire?
“Starship Troopers 2,” that’s what.
This sequel completely missed absolutely everything that people liked about the original film. While on paper it may sound like a worthwhile sequel, but it only takes the opening narrative to show that this movie completely skipped the idea of satire and just fit the original book’s themes.
Like the other movies, it opens with a bit of in-universe propaganda, showing what the Federation is showing its people in order to justify their war efforts. In the first movie and the third movie — which is much better than the second — these are just dripping in satire, going so far past anything someone could take seriously to create a strangely humorous atmosphere.
In this movie though, it is 100% serious, singing the praises of our film’s hero. No allusions to the dystopian world they live in exist, so calling him a hero while also praising the horrific actions he has committed just straight up tell us how cool and great he is.
The issue is after the main part of the film actually starts, they introduce this man as a villain to the Federation. He’s been locked up for murder, but based on the opening, which takes place after the film, we know that somehow he’s going to prove himself a good guy. The problem is only we — as the audience — would see him as a hero. In their universe, he should have been condemned for his refusal to listen to superiors or his murder of fellow soldiers for following the orders of their superiors.
See, in the universe of the film, you aren’t supposed to think for yourself or do anything on your own. Soldiers act as unthinking puppets, doing exactly what their superiors tell them without question. They may as well be machines as far as the government cares, because the only value they hold is that of another body to throw at the enemy. They aren’t supposed to think on their own — they just need to shoot bugs and die.
So this man who listens to no one and overtly disobeys orders from superiors is not someone the Federation would ever consider giving the spotlight to other than to execute him publicly for everyone to see.
This movie is just a generic action film that takes almost nothing from the original movie other than the bugs, the military focus and the existence of psychics.
Sure, they’re wearing the Nazi uniforms and shooting the same laser guns, but nothing about the film feels remotely similar to the first.
I rate films from 10 to -10, with negative being so bad its good. This movie is a 2, because not only is it a boring generic action film, it had to borrow the name of one of my favorite films without making any effort to live up to that name. Go watch the original or the third film, but never the second. Those two are beautiful satirical films that put thought into their writing and worlds.
This week, I want to talk about the importance of lighting. Now, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but lighting can really make or break a film. Darkness can help the audience feel enclosed or lost, while good lighting can help the audience feel at ease in a scene.
In this movie, everything is dark and at times tough to see, which goes against everything in the first and third movies. In those, even in the middle of the night it is bright enough to see almost the entire scene, helping reinforce the idea that nothing is being hidden from us about this world or the people in it.
Everyone is exactly their face value, and while we see that they are obviously unlikable and horrible people, they have such different morals in-universe that these people are completely normal.
This article was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon’s Bad Movie Showcase.
Editing done by Evan Newell