Most people remember the original Starship Troopers for its combination of ruthless warfare, gore and satire doling out heavy doses of action scenes, political commentary so pointedly ironic it could cut and bloody corpses by the planetload. Starship Troopers 3 Marauders makes the effort, but despite taking place during an actual controversial war, is curiously bloodless, both on the battlefield and in its storytelling.
A decent but uneven effort from original Starship Troopers screenwriter Ed Neumeier, Starship Troopers 3 Marauders does its best to simulate its big screen ancestor with a small screen budget, but the action scenes and special effects just aren’t there, and even the satire is oddly weak and watered down. If anything marked the original Starship Troopers, it was its complete commitment to being the most ruthless embodiment of itself with officers and soldiers who showed no hesitation or mercy, with blood poured out by the buckets and satire that mocked military and political propaganda, even as the movie showed us the realization of a truly fascist government faced with a ruthless and inhuman enemy. It wasn’t Heinlein’s vision, but it stood on its own. Starship Troopers 3 Marauders does not.
Starship Troopers 3 Marauders still serves up some of the violence, nudity and satire of the original, but much of it is directionless and comes off as an attempt to compensate for the small budget, as battle at a doomed outpost on a farming planet leaves the Skymarshal, Lola, played by Jolene Blalock and the usual cast of mismatched characters, a drunken doctor, a cowardly cook, a religious aide and a tough Chief stranded on a planet inside the Arachnid quarantine zone who have to be rescued by the Marauders, a team wearing the powered armor from Heinlein’s novel, led by a court martialed Johnny Rico, fighting the bugs and a power mad Admiral’s coup.
The characters are no longer the ruthless bastards they used to be, even the Federal Network has been watered down, giving equal time to the other side running polls on whether blowing up planets is immoral. The Skymarshal sings and dances on television and sells merchandise with his picture on it. Almost half the movie focuses on Lola stumbling around the desert with a group of mismatched characters, none of whom follow orders, and who spend most of their time complaining. There’s Holly, the aide slash stewardess who sings religious hymns and insists everyone pray with her. There’s the deranged Skymarshal who never stops smiling and insists everyone pray with him, while talking about his god. There’s Jingo, the annoying frightened cook who winds up running away and right into a group of bugs. Where the recent Mutant Chronicles at least gave us a SciFi version of the Dirty Dozen, Starship Troopers 3 Marauders, give us the Whining Six. Even Lola comes off as childish and indecisive over the long trek. They’re every bit the sort of people that Michael Ironside’s Rasczak would have shot out of hand before marching on to the next objective.
Reimagined as a satirical judgment on both Heinlein’s novel and militarism, the original Starship Troopers pointed the guns at the bugs and let the satire come from the war effort. Starship Troopers 3 Marauders instead goes light on the action and seemingly borrowing from Battlestar Galactica’s religion oriented story, introduces a Lovecraftian uberbug half the size of a planet that the bugs and the Skymarshal worship as god. In a virtual regurgitation of a portion of the first film’s plot, the uberbug turns out to be the ultimate brain bug who wants to tap the Skymarshal’s knowledge of the fleet and uses his betrayal to penetrate and destroy an outpost.
Starship Troopers 3 Marauders’ one saving grace is the return of Caspar Van Dien, who isn’t much of an actor, but knows this is his one lead role and gives it everything he has, delivering ridiculous lines with the complete conviction of a man who really believes them. The movie is at its best when Johnny Rico is paying homage to the original, it’s at its weakest when it’s lost in the desert with Lola. Unfortunately the movie is more desert than anything else, and by the time the Marauders are thrown into the fight, they prove to be so ridiculously indestructible and the special effects so hopelessly bad, that there really isn’t much point to it all except to introduce a closing portion heavy on religious satire with Holly reimagined as the Virgin Mary and the Marauders as heavenly angels.
Light on action and stuck with some really poor special effects and unable to even produce blood that looks like blood instead of Heinz 57, Starship Troopers 3 Marauders loses out on the action and its satirical jabs are weak and all over the place, at once mocking the Federation and the anti-war protesters and religion, and mostly failing to deliver. There are understated references to everything from Stalin’s introduction of religion after Hitler’s invasion to the JFK assassination and 9/11, but none of them manage to connect to anything larger. Marauders’ plot is even weaker, compensating for the low budget with an extended desert scene with some of the most annoying characters you’re likely to find in any movie. Aside from the introduction of religion into the Federation most of the plot developments in the movie go nowhere. General Hauser and Rico become friends then enemies and then friends again. The Admiral’s coup against the Skymarshal turns out to be completely justified. The Uberbug has apparently been destroyed and yet the war shows no sign of ending. A seeming love triangle between Rico, Lola and Dix never goes anywhere either.
Overly ambitious, Starship Troopers 3 Marauders never really manages to get anything right. Considering the budget and that Ed Neumeier is a first time director, Starship Troopers 3 Marauders can be excused for a lot of this, but that doesn’t make it worth watching.