Starship Troopers ★★★★½

There are two reasons why I dislike James Cameron’s Titanic: The first, and obvious reason is that it isn’t a very good film, but most importantly it was responsible for me missing out on seeing Starship Troopers on the big screen. So popular was Cameron’s behemoth that every other film was sold out thanks to people being unable to get into see Winslet’s breasts and DiCaprio’s bad acting.

The sheer spectacle of Verhoeven’s bug-blasting epic would have blown my mind on the big screen but thankfully it is still an undisputed joy at home too. Even back in ‘97 it surprised me how few people really got the film. Not only was Verhoeven very well known for his playful and satirical subversion but this was a far from subtle attack. Even if the direct references to Leni Riefenstahl’s films went over an audience’s head there was still enough nods, winks and outright slaps in the face to show that this was more than just another dumb action film. Everything from the Nazi inspired uniforms to the blatant propaganda promotional videos that interspersed the action was explicit in attacking the militaristic and fascist ideal the film portrayed. The cast of 90210 rejects with their impossibly beautiful appearances and limited acting abilities perfectly suited a film that constantly poked fun at the attitudes in the film. This is not a gritty war movie but a glamorous promotional video trying to sell the military lifestyle to the next generation of bug fodder. Yet perhaps because so many people didn’t get it, and that it polarised opinion so much, is Verhoeven’s real genius as it proves his obvious target is still valid even in today’s more educated and savvy world.

As with both RoboCop and Total Recall (two other films with a subversive side), Verhoeven has created a world of friction and ultraviolence. There are few directors, before or since, that have managed to create excessively violent films on a big budget quite like Verhoeven. He takes on-screen violence to near comical extremes but always manages to make it work. Giant alien bugs and the human grunts sent to kill them are ripped apart with equal abandon and crowd-pleasing relish. It is undeniably entertaining watching all the different ways Verhoeven dispatches enemy and heroes alike but the joyous bloodlust creates an interesting conflict with the film’s message because the audience ultimately buys into the propaganda the film is directly attacking.

The action is spectacular with computer generated special effects that still hold up surprisingly well today. Waves of boldly coloured giant insects overwhelm the screen and their human foe. Each sequence is more spectacular than the last with an increase in scale, diversity of bugs and cost to human life as the film progresses. The surprising thing is that, despite the characters deliberate crudeness, you still invest in them and their soap opera-like personal journeys. Caspar Van Dien and gang are terrible actors but perfectly cast in their respective roles whilst the likes of Clancy Brown and Michael Ironside provide the much needed colour and class.

If there was any justice in the world this film would have gone on to break box office records around the world instead of Titanic but at least it has still found a small but loyal following that appreciate the film’s undoubted brilliance. Now where do I sign-up to become a fully fledged citizen?

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