(Phil Tippett, USA, 2004)
Phil Tippett, the man behind the visual effects in Starship Troopers (and RoboCop) takes up the feature directorial reigns for the first time with this sequel to Paul Verhoeven's 1997 neo(con)-fascist SF war movie satire. The plot here (scripted by co-writer of the first Troopers, Edward Neumeier) is far more modest - no doubt largely due to the significantly reduced budget. Troopers in the field on the alien bugs' home planet are forced to occupy a remote outpost. The only survivor of previous bug attacks on the camp is Captain Dax who was locked in an incinerator after being accused of murdering a fellow officer. But with thousands of giant killer bugs intent on wiping out all traces of human, the troopers' General (Patrick Stewart look-a-like Ed Lauter) decides that all hands are needed to defend themselves and releases the Captain granting him a temporary reprieve. Bugs aside, can the troopers trust Captain Dax or are there others factors that demand greater attention?
With the action taking place in just one location, a bunch of cannon fodder up against immense alien odds there's plenty of resonance not only with similarly-themed SF films like Alien3 and John Carpenter's The Thing, but countless war movies too. Unlike its predecessor, this outing is really quite sombre and the camp jingoism of Verhoeven's original is limited to two brief sequences that merely bookend the film. What begins like a WWII movie with soldiers desperately holding out in enemy territory turns, midway through, into an alien takeover horror flick.
Thankfully, the excellent special effects, be they CGI or physical, are easily up to the demands of the ever more gruesome script. The score by William Stromberg and John Morgan provides an A-picture polish and the cast are all above average for what is essentially a genre b-picture. In the director's chair Tippett is no Verhoeven for sure, but unlike his Dutch counterpart, Tippett's approach seems to suggest that he thinks the brutality of the subject matter deserves to be treated with a more responsible, notably less light-hearted delivery (odd given Verhoeven's war-torn childhood). For example, the shocking contrast between the deliberately cheesy military TV broadcast (which opens the film) spinning a life of adventure and excitement in the armed forces, suddenly jump cuts to front line action where we see the grim, graphic reality of soldiers being literally ripped apart by the aliens. This accurately mirrors the real-world disconnect between blind patriotism that the American military's marketing relies upon and, for example, the confused bloody mire of somewhere like Iraq.
Fortunately, the political subtext is never forced, but there are virtually no jokey one-liners and the main action is played straight. This will disappoint many who were fans of the opposite traits in Starship Troopers, but others less enamoured with the original, myself included, might actually find this much better than expected. 6/10
Rob Dyer (March 2006)
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