STARSHIP TROOPERS: TRAITOR OF MARS Blu-Ray Review: Welcome Back, Johnny Rico
Starship Troopers holds a special place in my VCR-loving heart. I rented Paul Verhoeven's sci-fi actioner from a grocery store upon its home video release and watched it that afternoon. Then, being kind, I did a rewind and immediately re-watched. As a 16-year-old kid the combination of violence and comedy was hard to resist. The movie is Verhoeven's hat trick, completing what I consider a trilogy (following RoboCop and Total Recall) that lampoons cultural norms and heedless hedonism with gory violence as the cherry on top. Both films would have unwarranted remakes but Troopers keeps moving right along, spawning sequels that move away from the live-action realm to the world of computer animation.
Which brings us to Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars, the fifth release for the franchise. I can't speak for the other sequels; all I know is that Johnny Rico is back and his character this time seems to be modeled after Venom Snake (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain). Right down to the eye patch and facial scars. Ed Neumeier, who wrote the original, returns and continues Rico's story as the hardened soldier leading recruits into big-ass bug battles. Other than incorporating the use of power suits, Traitor of Mars feels more like it's hitting bullet points than giving us new avenues worth exploring. Neumeier repurposes themes from the original but uses them and familiar phrases as crutches to help stabilize an okay, though unremarkable, sequel.
Johnny Rico (voiced by Casper Van Dien), demoted to the rank of colonel, is now tasked with training martian-born troopers in a station orbiting the red planet. Off the battlefield his passion for fighting those giant arachnids still thrives. Rico is diligent in combat simulations, instructing his latest recruits on the best methods to kill bugs. They continue to fail, however. But when a bug's nest under Mars begins to attack the now-colonized planet, Rico and the still not-ready-for-combat troopers must stand tall and defend the denizens against the infestation. Little does Rico know that the swarm of arachnids is a political stratagem. The goal: to affect a civilization (ahem, Martians) that would rather remain autonomous from Federation control.
To his credit, I have to hand it to Ed Neumeier and his decision to have the villain be a self-centered politician that is okay with the complete obliteration of a planet as long as approval numbers continue to rise. While most of Traitor of Mars plays like a parody of Verhoeven's classic, this inclusion seems very on the nose of today's political spectrum and the military-industrial complex. Outside of that, the story is best on the field of battle with Johnny Rico and the troopers battling swarms of bugs. As a bonus we get the return of Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) – sort of. When Rico is on the precipice of death she magically appears to guide him towards deliverance.
Fans should enjoy Dizzy's short-lived and cheaply played out return. Carmen and Carl are also among the returning characters, though without the voices of Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris it's not the same.
The film’s visual look leaves a lot to be desired. I've seen video game cutscenes that have more polish than this. Even the trailer for Resident Evil: Vendetta that plays before the main menu screen is more visually stimulating. What does work is the action. One of the featurettes included indicated that in the previous animated sequel, Starship Troopers: Invasion, the action scenes were mostly confined to close quarters with minimal enemies at a given time. The advancement in computer animation has allowed directors Masaru Matsumoto and Shinji Aramaki to give us giant bug swarms with its set pieces. This, plus the addition of power suits in combat situations, will please hardcore fans.
Among the supplemental material are a trio of featurettes where Casper Van Dien and writer Ed Neumeier discuss the Starship Troopers legacy and the franchise that has developed over the past twenty years. Acknowledging famous fans (and a few ex-Presidents) that love Paul Verhoeven's original was a nice touch, and again illustrates the following the film has gained these past two decades. Van Dien and Neumeier also get into political overtones, their mutual love for the franchise, and more. Outside of these features, there is a two-parter on the actual making of Traitor of Mars as the filmmakers discuss the digital tweaking that went into making the bugs better and the functionality of the power suits. Rounding out the extras are the perfunctory concept art gallery, previewing of other Sony releases, and a deleted scene.
Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars will not score high points for originality. The action is okay for what it is, but aside from the villain, Neumeier relies too much on nostalgia instead of forging ahead. When asked “Would you like to know more?”, at this point I'm more inclined to choose NO.