The funny thing about Shinji Aramaki’s “Starship Troopers: Invasion” is that it looks a lot better when people are running around in their bulky space combat suits than when they’re out of them. When characters are just walking around in their undies, or in nothing at all (a common thing here), the CG animation leaves a lot to be desired. But that’s just one of the things about CG animation that I’ll never really be able to buy into. Fortunately there’s enough here in terms of wanton carnage, a totally fatalistic approach to warfare, and unrelenting bug action that helps me to overlook the film’s shortcomings.
Directed by Aramaki, the man behind 2004′s “Appleseed” and “Appleseed Saga: Ex Machina” 3 years later, “Invasion” returns us to Robert A. Heinlein’s bug-infested universe, where the Federation continues its never ending battle against tough alien bug creatures with talons that can punch through steel like they were paper. If you’ve seen any of the “Starship Troopers” movies (in particular Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 splatterific “Starship Troopers”) then you know what the bugs look like. For the rest of you, imagine giant, 7-8 feet tall mantis with armored shells. You can kill them with long, sustained volleys of gunfire, but they can just as easily run up and decapitate you in a heartbeat. Plus, there are bugs that can shoot, well, plasma bombs out of their ass. Those show up much later in the film. But for the most part, it’s essentially the warrior bugs. A billion of them, or so it seems.
Despite boasting “Starship Troopers” star Caspier Van Dien and writer Edward Neumeier as executive producers (really, what does an “executive producer” do on a movie, anyway?), “Invasion” oddly couldn’t swing Van Dien to voice Johnny Rico, now a General in the Federation Fleet. When the starship John A. Warden goes missing, commandeered by psychic officer (and all around douche bag) Carl Jenkins (Justin Doran), Rico dispatches a group of soldiers, led by the highly decorated Hero (David Wald) to take it back. Coming along for the ride is Captain Carmen Ibanez (Luci Christian), the Warden’s Captain, who wants her ship back. They eventually track Carl and the Warden down, but discover that Carl’s latest experiment has given control of the Warden to the bugs. In particular, a Bug Queen, and she ain’t ready to give it back just yet.
At last count, there have been three “Starship Troopers” movies so far (the big-budget 1997 movie and two low-budget straight-to-DVD sequels), a handful of games, and an animated TV show called “Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles”. And oh yeah, there’s that “Starship Troopers” remake currently in the works. So where does “Invasion” fit into all that? It looks and feels like a direct sequel to the 1997 movie, with familiar characters Johnny Rico, Carmen Ibanez, and Carl Jenkins all grown up and leading different parts of the war against the bugs. Rico is now a General, in charge of a space station that defends Earth; Carmen is the captain of the John A. Warden, which is this giant ass (and from the looks of it, essentially invincible) warship; and Carl Jenkins is so high-ranking that he can apparently do just about anything he damn well pleases. Which is a good thing, because Carl was a major douche bag back then, and even more so now.
While those three familiar characters appear throughout “Invasion”, the film actually spends a fair amount of time introducing a bunch of new characters. Short-timers, I guess you can call them, because although the movie makes a big effort to give every single one of them some individuality, the fact that they keep getting killed at an alarming rate makes you wonder what the point was. I guess Aramaki wanted us to have some insights into them before he started chopping off their heads, impaling them, or slicing off their arms in battle. That, uh, happens a lot. Like I said — in terms of feel and tone, “Invasion” very much takes after the Paul Verhoeven movie. You just know that Rico, Carmen, and Carl ain’t going anywhere mostly because they’re valuable characters in the franchise. Unfortunately the new characters are pretty much interchangeable, and the CG isn’t anywhere close to being good enough to separate them from one another. Heck, I could only ever keep the two girls in the unit apart because one has dark hair and the other is a blonde. Forget about trying to tell the white guys apart.
“Starship Troopers: Invasion” is bug-heavy throughout, with some rip-roaring action sequences that you could only do with a CG movie. It’s pretty much nonstop bug fighting except for a long stretch in the middle where the characters get some downtime, and it’s a good thing it’s all CG, because otherwise I’d be bitching about how no one seems to ever have to reload, a major problem given that these dudes discharge about a gazillion rounds a second. I’m also not going to point out that despite their bulky, heavy combat armor, it really doesn’t seem to help much against those bug claws. Or the fact that these troopers don’t really seem to use their combat armor to any great effect; for example, they can apparently power jump and do other cool things, but you can count on one hand the number of times they actually make use of their suit’s abilities.
And perhaps keeping itself in line with the Verhoeven film, “Invasion” gets quite a lot of mileage out of the unit’s unisex status. Fans of gratuitous CG T&A will be happy, including a ridiculously pervy shot of Carmen Ibanez in the shower. Amusingly, though, there are no actual sex scenes, though you do get a post-coital moment between two characters. There’s also a funny bit where Johnny Rico apparently still hasn’t gotten over Carmen Ibanez that should make fans of the original chuckle a bit. In terms of gore and violence, the film’s got that covered in spades. Aramaki certainly doesn’t skimp on the bloodbaths, and there are a number of really nifty sequences, like when the troopers discover the entire dead crew of the Warden floating in zero gravity.
Overall, I liked “Starship Trooper: Invasion”. The inconsistency with the CG really bothered me at first, but I eventually warmed to it once everyone slipped on their combat armor and the battle commenced. Honestly, I’m not sure what it is, but the film is probably at its most artificial when it’s trying so hard to make its characters look realistic outside of uniform. I know, I know, nitpicking about the
Fans of the franchise should find a lot to like about “Invasion”. The beginning minutes are a bit hard to decipher, as Aramaki cuts back and forth between a battle in a shuttle bay and Carl Jenkins being his Carl Jenkins self, and it took me a while to figure out what the hell was happening where. But once the plot proper kicks into gear, it’s an easy enough movie to enjoy. I’m still not sure why Caspier Van Dien didn’t return to do the voice of Johnny Rico, though. I mean, he’s executive producing this thing, right? You couldn’t spare a day, Casper?
Shinji Aramaki (director) / Robert A. Heinlein (based on the novel by), Flint Dille (screenplay)
CAST: David Matranga … Johnny Rico
Luci Christian … Carmen Ibanez
Justin Doran … Carl Jenkins
David Wald … Hero
Andrew Love … Bugspray
Leraldo Anzaldua … Ratzass
Emily Neves … Trig
Melissa Davis … Ice Blonde