Review

Review

Starship Troopers 3: Maurauder (2008)

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Do we even NEED a third entry in the Starship Troopers series? Aside from neatly rounding out a full trilogy (for the time being), one cannot imagine a late-coming sequel that had LESS demand behind it ... right? I don't think so, and here's why:

Paul Verhoeven's original Starship Troopers (which was based on the novel by Robert Heinlen) wasn't exactly a box-office smash at the time of its release, but it's definitely gone on to become one of the most "discussed" sci-fi flicks of the past twenty years. Love it or hate it, there's a lot going on in Starship Troopers aside from hyper-crazy action sequences -- and the film managed to do well enough to kick-start its own brand-new revenue stream.

From the first film we got a very popular animated TV series (Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles), a handful of video games, and a video sequel entitled Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation. Fans of the original film (and even the book) seemed a little annoyed with "Part 2," given how it jettisons all of the first film's broad satire and snarky politics -- but if you take ST2 as a simple sci-fi horror film (without necessarily comparing it to its predecessor), I'd say it's certainly fun enough.

Hero of the Federation hit the shelves in 2004, and now Sony is re-igniting the franchise with Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, and this is a direct-to-video sequel that definitely gets some things right. Given the flick's relatively tight budget and the series' air of general "predictability," I'm quite surprised to note that, yep, I had a pretty good time with Starship Troopers 3. Both for the goofy things it gets wrong and (even better) for the pulpy parcel of genre goodness it gets right!

First off it should be noted that Part 3 marks the return of Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico, who was the star of the first film but didn't appear in the sequel. This is sort of like Luke Skywalker returning to the Star Wars series after a one-movie absence. No, not really. Just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. But since making the scene in the original Starship, Casper has bounced around tons of amazingly cheese-ball movies, and you know what? He's a perfectly serviceable B-grade sorta movie star. Hardly an Olivier, but cool enough in a "matinee guy" style. Anyway, Rico is back, and he's got a few new friends in tow.

Hearkening back to the original film, series screenwriter (and first-time director) Ed Neumeier brings in a tough-gal pilot (Jolene Blalock as Lola Beck!) and a duplicitous officer (Boris Kodjoe as Dix Hauser!) to make the space-opera love-triangle complete, and by trying to offer us a few comic book-ish characters with a few personality traits, Neumeier earns some leeway during the talky bits. The characters may be cardboard, but I suspect they were built that way on purpose. The plot is a pretty basic "military rescue" affair, so I'll spare you the specific details, but if the characters feel like they fell out of a comic book, then that goes double for the screenplay.

Bonus points to the producers for injecting a sly sense of humor this time around, and the main target for Part seems to be organized religion. Turns out that the infamous "brain bug" has been able to convince "Sky Marshall Anoke" (a hilarious Stephen Hogan) that the bugs ARE god, which means that Neumeier can have a little fun poking holes in that particular direction. (The flick may lay the religion gags on a bit too thick by the time Act III is winding down, but I still give the writers credit for creativity.)

Best of all, for all its surprising little merits, Starship Troopers 3 still works as a piece of cheesy B-grade cinema fun. For every moment of FX that does work, there are two that look amusingly fake, and while some of the actors do a fine job with their broad material -- a few of them sound like they're reading from cue cards. So it's half-smart, half-stupid, and packed to the gills with giant killer bugs and outer space explosions. If that sort of thing sounds like a good way to spend 92 minutes, then be aware that Starship Troopers 3 is a little bit better than you might expect.

And the DVD isn't half bad either. The film is presented in a solid widescreen format, with audio in 5.1 English or 2.0 French. (Optional subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.) Extras-wise, we have two commentary tracks (one with Ed Neumeier, FX supervisor Robert Skotak and producer David Lancaster; the other with Neumeier, Casper Van Dien and Jolene Blalock), which should be more than enough to satisfy the hardcore fans who would "like to know more!"

Also included: The 11-minute "Evolution: The Bugs of Starship Troopers 3," a 13-minute making-of piece called "Enlist! Marauder's Mobile Infantry," a goofy music video (you have to see the movie to get the joke), and a whole bunch of Sony previews.

Fun Saturday afternoon brain candy. Probably a rental moreso than a must-own, but certainly worth a look if you dug the first film.

 

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