In 1997, director Paul Verhoven (Robocop, Basic Instinct, Total Recall) brought the Robert Heinlein classic sci-fi novel ‘Starship Troopers’ to life on the big screen, to mostly critical disapproval but fandom applaud, as it is now considered by many in the sci-fi/action fan community to be one of the most creative and entertaining action films of that decade, holding a place in their hearts as an unadulterated and sorely underrated sci-fi classic. While the film was only loosely based on the novel story itself, it presented all the same characters, similar ideas, with just as much action and some blatantly sarcastic sexuality sprinkled in. The propaganda satiric tone that the Verhovan classic had was mostly injected by him, as any fan of his previous films knows that he has a specific talent in doing it with such subtle humor and modern day relevance. ‘Invasion’ now comes as the fourth Starship Troopers film done completely in CGI, which again brings back our main three characters from the original, yet sticks a little more faithfully to the tone of the original novel (in particular the weapons, and those killer grunt suits, super high jumps and all, which unfortunately were not in the Verhovan film due to limited movie technology at the time), yet also with the comic book style character dialogue and obvious sexuality that the Verhovan movie had. Invasion is directed by Shinji Aramaki, as many anime fans may recognize from his directorial work in Appleseed:Ex Machina, also a worthy and entertaining CG action film based on the Ghost in the Shell manga series (yes I saw that one too and definitely recommend it to CG action fans). Not to also mention an overall better movie, yet Invasion still shines well where it needs to, even if it will be more appreciated by Trooper fans more than anyone else.
Invasion takes place primarily on the starship Alesia with our three returning main characters from the original film – Carmen Ibanez, Carl Jenkins, and Johnny Rico, all now having advanced directorial rankings aboard their respective ships. The first thing fans will notice is that though this film is technically a sequel, the three returning characters harbor NONE of their previous personalities or even look from the Verhovan original. Rico himself now dons an eye patch, scar, and scraggly voice which causes him to look and sound strangely similar to Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid game franchise (I guess it was worth mentioning). The team gets sent on a mission to investigate the ship John A. Warden which lost a signal; they must now search for any remaining survivors and recover the ship, but little do they know that the bug enemies have advanced themselves, taken control of the ship with new abilities unknown to the troopers, and are now being led by a powerful queen brain bug.
Initially, we get to know our troopers, and besides our main three characters all having tensions within their own situations due to political differences and agendas, the rest of the crew is mostly your typical comic book grunts whose dialogue could easily fit in white bubbles over their heads. These new characters are introduced to us with nothing much more than cheap slaptalk, and add very little to the cast with the exception of one ex-prisoner nicknamed “Hero,” and a sweet and seductive yet strong and fearless female soldier named Trig. Given that the other grunt’s names are things like Ratsazz, Ice Blonde, Shock Jock and Bugspray, it’s not too hard to why these aren’t the deepest people in the galaxy. It is around this point, being a CG film, that it unfortunately begins to suffer from what many CG action films suffer from – substandard characterization. While this is not true of a small number of CG action films (Ex Machina to name one), the genre as a whole is mostly avoided by major studios altogether because just like the case with Invasion, it is for some unknown reason very difficult to create characters we actually care about when they are put in situations of peril. CG has always worked best with kid’s films, not action movies. This may be due in part to the fact that they are not only so artificial looking, but also have voice actors that can never seem to do anywhere near Oscar-worthy work, thus never being able to grasp our attention as genuinely as real live actors might. Considering Invasion’s budget (which is no Hollywood frontrunner), the character’s facial animations look fairly standard, if somewhat stiff at times when speaking, and voice acting is really just sub par altogether. Again, it plays out mostly like a comic. A significant letdown because the film does genuinely try to build decent characters from the get go, but due to these purely technical limitations, cannot work as much as they and us want it to. The bug enemies themselves also have a sort of cheap look to them; they do not run with the threatening smoothness and deadly intimidation that they did in the Verhovan film, but instead have sort of a jerky motion to them when they run towards our protagonists, looking almost like bug children if anything else, perhaps placed there in training by the bigger scarier bug parents. Moreover, those ferocious growls fans came to know are mostly absent, replaced instead by either nothing, or basic roars taken from generic stock effects. Since the bugs have always been the center stage stars of these Trooper films, it will take fans out of the moment when the bugs feel more like cardboard cutouts rather than the powerful and unstoppable menaces they always were. Being shot down by a couple of bullets rather easily by the troopers doesn’t help, who still use machine guns similar to the original film. In the original troopers had to pump in almost entire clips into these monsters to get them to go down; back then they were definitely a major force to be reckoned with.
What does detract from this film mostly is that it feels as if the scope in itself is just too small. We are on a ship being taken over, with just ONE crew the entire time, it makes you wonder where the rest of humanity is while this is happening. Why is there no real help by the rest of the human military infantry? While this film does impress on a visual front, with great action where it needs to be, one cannot help but wonder what this would have been like if it were simply BIGGER. A very basic soundtrack consisting of just ambient noise we barely ever hear makes this evident. Just once is a portion of a song from the original soundtrack played, and the rest of the film would have absolutely benefited from at least a few moments of this type of nostalgia or just payment of homage. Granted, this one complaint doesn’t actually take away from the film, because it should be appreciated for what it DOES give and how it gives it. Lastly, it should also be mentioned that even though the description behind the blu-ray case states that there is an abundance of blood and gore, there is actually and disappointingly very little in terms of the hard war violence we saw in the original film. Many scenes of soldiers dying are annoyingly censored out due to quick editing which either cuts away or shoves something in front of the screen so we can’t see the action. I’m not sure why this was the filmmaker’s decision but it gives the firefights a PG-13 vibe, something Trooper fans have never been accustomed to. If it wasn’t for the curse words and nude shots, this would probably have gotten a PG-13 rating. Anyway, after a while, the gunshot sounds become very familiar (‘oh, they’re shooting again’), and you are thankful to see when they finally pull out different weapons. This takes a bit too long to happen though. Granted, everything on a visual front looks quite fantastic. This is what holds things together until the story begins to build up a bit of steam.
As the crew now enters a dire situation where it seems the bugs have the upper hand, is when the movie begins to somewhat pick up. Suddenly those grunt characters start to show a bit of emotion, things take a slower pace and the film begins to shine. Strangely enough, this is a case of a film that actually improves with a second viewing, almost like a song that didn’t really hit you right the first time, you begin to notice things you didn’t appreciate the first time around. While only a portion of this has to do with the story, most of it is with the visuals themselves. Invasion’s CGI work is very impressive at most points throughout the film, and some quick scenes, mostly of set establishing shots, will downright dazzle. While the animations themselves by both the troopers and bugs can get a bit jerky at times, altogether things work beautifully clean and seamless. The bug queen itself as well as her hide is perhaps the best visual treat of the whole movie. I did mention that the guns themselves begin to sound repetitive, but actual firefights do have incredible eye-candy moments, where various stunts done in slow motion capture are a pure joy to watch. Thankfully, Invasion has enough of these to keep things interesting for action fans, allowing the story to catch up with our attention spans.
All things said and done it is obvious here that this is a film made strictly for the fans, and those who have never heard of Starship Troopers before will less than likely hold any real interest, particularly girlfriends who are forced to watch this by their more picky significant others. Since the main characters all still hold the relationships they built in the first Verhovan film, people new to Invasion will really have no idea why commander Rico and captain Ibanez care for each other or as to why they clash heads with chief military intelligence officer Carl Jenkins. They also won’t grasp where the bugs came from and why there is an ongoing war in the first place. This film highlights just one segment battle of the entire war. So no, they don’t destroy all the bugs forever and ever, as there is still plenty of room for further sequels, live action or CG, and fans will be more than happy to eagerly wait for these future releases.
A 1 hour and 20 minute segment of broken up behind-the-scenes footage highlighting various aspects, such as the bugs, music, motion capture, etc. With interviews at the helm with all the film’s producers, including executive producer Casper Van Dien, who starred as Johnny Rico in the original Troopers film. The footage is not only informative but also very interesting, and while not the most entertaining piece of work in the world, does give enough footage to keep people interested, and doesn’t try to BS its audience with actor interviews just kissing up to each other. There is a gag reel which, for an animated film, is just purposeful fluff that my incite a chuckle or two. Some deleted scenes and commentary during the film wrap things up. It’s your basic extras set, but at least the footage does last a significant amount of time.
Graphic and Sound
Visually, the movie itself as I stated looks great, and the blu-ray transfer does it justice the majority of the time, yet there are some scenes in darker areas where things become somewhat grainy, so when those happen it does distract a bit. Yet the scenes that are clean are simply impeccable and wholly impressive. Not the greatest visual transfer, but enough good to do the impressive animations their do. On the area of sound, things are just as balanced out as any HD fan would like. No, nothing is incredibly bombastic, but at least nothing gets in the way of anything else with the audio.
A cohesive and functional story made strictly for fans does not impress as much as you would like it too, and the original Verhovan film still reigns as the unbeatable classic, but Invasion still has just enough visual action chops and likeable (not lovable) characters to warrant a second or third viewing. It is not a particularly long film, running at only 85 minutes before the credits roll, we get a short but sweet and slick looking actionfest that does warrant a purchase from fans especially at its low current retail price. I did wish for more but was not entirely disappointed. As a fan myself, this did appeal to me. I’d give it 2.5 grunts out of 4.