Peace could be hell for humanity in ‘Starship Troopers 3: Marauder’

September 22, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 22, 2016

Over a 10-year period, Dutch-born director Paul Verhoeven released five major motion pictures. The streak began in 1987 with RoboCop, an original science fiction property, and continued with the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle (and Philip K. Dick adaptationTotal Recall, the racy detective thriller Basic Instinct and the cheesecake festival Showgirls before being capped by Starship Troopers, the 1997 adaptation of one of Robert Heinlein’s most popular novels. Verhoeven’s movies tended to be popular but usually earned a cool reception from critics.

But in fact, Starship Troopers wasn’t all that successful. It grossed just shy of $55 million domestically, good for the 35th biggest take of the year, according to Box Office Mojo. (Verhoeven, incidentally, has directed just four pictures since 1997, one of which is due out this fall.)

Somewhat surprisingly, Starship Troopers actually spawned several low-profile spinoffs. The first of these was Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles, an animated TV show that generated 44 half-hour episodes in a one-season run that began in 1999. That was followed in 2004 by Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation, a direct-to-video live-action effort featuring none of the original cast. I’ve watched about five minutes of one Roughnecks episode and have not seen any of the second movie.

There have been two other movies, although I’m skeptical that either of them received proper theatrical releases. One of these was Starship Troopers: Invasion, a 2012 animated production, which I also haven’t seen. The other was Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, a 2008 live-action flick featuring the star of the original Troopers movie — and this, friends, is the reason why I’ve called us all together this evening.

Marauder was the first and thus far only directorial outing for Ed Neumeier, who earned his first film credit as co-writer of Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Neumeier has had a modest career as a Hollywood writer — he was the sole writer of all three live-action Starship Troopers movies, and he also contributed to the script of the 2004 horror movie Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid.

That’s not an inspiring oeuvre, but the pleasant surprise is that Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is a fairly watchable, and at times even enjoyable, production. The story begins at a military outpost on the agricultural world Roku San, where Col. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien, the lead from the 1997 film) is trying to mediate between the unhappy locals and the bloodthirsty alien Arachnids who are bent on humanity’s destruction.

The outpost’s tenuous balance is upset when Sky Marshal Omar Anoke (Stephen Hogan), the supreme commander of Earth forces, makes an unannounced visit to Roku San accompanied by two of Rico’s old pals — Anoke’s adjutant, Gen. Dix Hauser (Boris Kodjoe), and his designated pilot, Capt. Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock, who played the Vulcan crew member on the little-loved TV series Enterprise). Hauser is a very successful paper-pusher who’s not-too-secretly jealous of his old boss, Rico, a square-jawed man’s man, and the relationship that Rico used to have with Beck. When the outpost mysteriously loses power and is overrun by the bugs, Anoke and Beck beat a hasty retreat to a human-controlled star system while Hauser stays behind in a vain effort to upstage some of Rico’s martial prowess.

The entire operation is a fiasco: Roku San sustains heavy casualties, and Beck’s ship is attacked, leaving her, Anoke and a handful of others stranded on a desolate planet in the Arachnid Quarantine Zone. For having contested Hauser’s attempt to take command, Rico is quickly court-martialed for insubordination and sentenced to hang.

Beck and company are declared missing, but Hauser, after returning to Earth, discovers that their location is known but has been covered up for unclear reasons. After (literally) liberating Rico from the hangman’s noose so his pal can lead a covert rescue mission, the general confronts Adm. Enolo Phid (Amanda Donohoe), who seems to be scheming to usurp Anoke’s place.

Meanwhile, Beck, Anoke, a young religiously inclined yeoman named Holly Little (Marnette Patterson) and the other passengers from their escape pod attempt to make their way to the last known position of the marine lander, which touched down on a different part of the Arachnid-infested planet; the lander carried more weapons and supplies and may be able to lift off into orbit. But the party is riven by tension, mainly due to the crew’s dislike and distrust of Beck, Beck’s distaste for Little’s increasingly vocal religious sentiments, and Beck’s disbelief at Anoke’s ever more eccentric pronouncements.

Neumeier and company clearly aren’t taking this material very seriously. But Starship Troopers 3 actually becomes fairly interesting during the fourth act: As the troupe of survivors are picked off one by one by the bugs and succumb to infighting, Hauser begins to unravel intrigues perpetrated at the highest level of human and Arachnid command. Unfortunately, the director, cast and crew can’t generate much tension during what should be an action-packed climax, which features the weakest effects of the picture. (I got the sense that the filmmakers had reached the limits of its $9 million by this point in the production.)

Although Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is clearly meant to be disposable entertainment, the movie’s depiction of a society totally committed to war against the bugs has a certain satirical bite. Futuristic propaganda newsreels, a trademark touch from the original film, depict the main peace advocate as a foul-mouthed wheelchair-bound misfit clearly based on Ron Kovic. (The character’s unlikely name is Elmo Gonif; the surname is a Yiddish word meaning scoundrel.) Peace protesters can be subject to public executions that are broadcast live throughout the human colonies, and as the picture opens, human officials have banned religion for fear that it might “destabilize the war effort.”

The movie also makes some cutting observations about the uses and abuses of religion, as the religious sentiments of both Little — whose first name is just one letter away from Holy — and Anoke are channeled to martial ends. Amusingly, Anoke is depicted as a supreme military commander and a best-selling musician, a combination that calls to mind public perceptions of Ronald Reagan prior to his being elected president in 1980. (It also prefigures the 2016 candidacy of reality-television celebrity Donald Trump.)

Unfortunately, Blalock and company don’t do a good job selling the initial hostility among the surviving crew, and the movie’s middle passage left me with a lot of questions about when and why various things were happening. For instance, either Rico was sentenced to death in just a few days or Beck and Anoke’s group spent several weeks on the bug planet. Additionally, I couldn’t understand why one character was shown classified material immediately after being arrested.

(Another mystery, wholly unrelated to the plot, is why author Robert Heinlein was given no credit on either live-action sequel for having written the source material.)

Bottom line: Some sci-fi buffs might find Starship Troopers 3: Marauder a pleasant diversion from everyday cares, but nobody else need go to the effort of obtaining a copy.

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