A post-modernist, tactical criticism of American militarism and the ingrained patriotism felt by it should come as no surprise. What does come as a surprise is that Paul Verhoeven managed to shroud it so well with his cheesy, brilliant adaptation of Robert A. Heinlen’s Starship Troopers. Lambs to the contemporary slaughter, but minds of the future were far kinder to Verhoeven’s efforts at adapting this militaristic insight and how it would soon be adapted to shepherd those that enjoy the safety of belief in their country and pride within it. Starship Troopers is an exemplary piece of film because it blurs the line between friendly, explosive entertainment and darker, biting criticisms of a culture it hopes to expose and explore.
Whiplash effectiveness is the game of Verhoeven, who opens his film with a friendly “I Want You” style advertisement that immediately cuts to the slaughter of the battlefield many of these poor souls are going to die on. Starship Troopers never actively contemplates that though. There’s no need. What settles so well throughout Verhoeven’s piece here is not just his criticism of blind patriotism but that of the machoism prevalent in the action genre. Casper Van Dien is the perfect example of this and portrays Johnny Rico with as much bravado as expected of a character with that name. Starship Troopers depends on a playing up of the stereotypes so it can talk right back down to them.
Even then though its other caricatures are far stronger and more intensely, readily available and understandable than most other films of the time. Denise Richards and Dina Meyer are used as clear and excellent pieces of the supporting puzzle at a time when action features were using them as love interests and nothing more. Vessels for the main character to rescue and reduce to gooey messes that were completely infatuated with them. While Starship Troopers has that and a lot of other dense commentaries, they feel sarcastic and particularly targeted at what was wrong with the genre at the time. The only problem with chastising that, going deep into the heart of darkness, is that the film is mistaken for what it tries to criticise.
Understandably so though, considering the direction on display feeling relatively symmetrical to the archaic structure of the usual Hollywood snoozefest. Starship Troopers, though, gets away with being a little David Cronenberg in style. Its ants and aliens are bloody disgusting, the physical props scream of John Carpenter and the body horror he and Cronenberg were so deeply involved with. Having that throughout Starship Troopers brings life not just to a sub-genre that was lost on critics of the time but explores the darker, disgusting side of science-fiction as noted quite frequently in Heinlen’s text. Visualising that is a difficult challenge, and as it turned out, Verhoeven succeeded so well that he was taken at face value. That is more of a compliment to the efforts of mocking and understanding the effects of the action genre than anything else. Verhoeven was ahead of himself and others time and time again. Starship Troopers is a shining example of that.