With entertainment.ie turning 25 this year, we're rolling back the clock to 1997 and revisiting movies on release during our site's early days. Each week, we'll take a trip down memory lane and come back with a movie you may remember, may have forgotten, or in this case, that you would like to know more of.
Chances are every film nerd in your life has pointed out a number of facts we're about to cover in this article about 'Starship Troopers'. Namely, that it's a thinly-veiled satire of fascism. All of the uniforms worn by officers of the Federation are copies of Nazi uniforms. The flags dotted around the scenery bear striking resemblance to Nazi Germany's swastika. The constant bombardment of propaganda for the war effort against the bugs, the othering of the bugs themselves, how war and military service is at the very heart of society - odds are you've heard it all before.
Much of Paul Verhoeven's work in this period of his career was thinly-veiled satire. 'Robocop' was based in part on Verhoeven's extreme reaction to American advertising and the consumer culture of the Reagan era, moulded together with witty observations on union-busting (Robocop was basically a scab), capitalism as a drug (everyone's getting high as shit), and more. 'Starship Troopers', meanwhile, was working off of his own memories of Nazi-occupied Netherlands, where he and his family were forced to work in a munitions factory while Allied bombs dropped around them. Every time Verhoeven went to a cinema during this time period, he was assaulted with Nazi propaganda extolling the virtues of fascism, how it saved society from collapse, and how it was "a world that works".
Poe's Law, a recent internet phenomenon and adage, states that without a clear indicator of the author's intent, every parody of extreme views can and will be mistaken by some readers as a sincere expression of the views being parodied. Arguably, the completely over-the-top way in which Verhoeven directs both the action and the actors makes it clear that it's not sincere. Just look at the clenching in Casper Van Dien's jaw, or how Michael Ironside carries himself in this movie, and you'll see every indication that it's insincere.
Yet, what makes 'Starship Troopers' so fascinating is that while it's clearly satirising fascism as a concept, it's also taking the piss out of just about every war movie along with it. The training regime that Rico undergoes is pulled straight from 'Full Metal Jacket', with Clancy Brown doing a relatively poor imitation of R. Lee Ermey. Later, Carmen and her training as a ship's officer is a poor copy of 'Star Trek'. If the idea behind 'Starship Troopers' is that war makes fascists of everyone, the same is true of just about every military sci-fi movie out there, even something as broad-minded as 'Star Trek'. After all, Starfleet is a military organisation and is at the centre of the Federation of Planets. Humanity may have evolved past the need for money and so on in the 'Star Trek' universe, but not for a highly-trained, highly-equipped, ever-present military. At least in the universe that 'Starship Troopers' occupies, they're not squeamish about that fact.
Not surprisingly, 'Starship Troopers' sailed over everyone's heads on release in 1997. It really only received its critical reappraisal in the past ten to fifteen years, just as the United States was knee-deep in a forever war in Afghanistan and the constant airhorn militarism being reported by all outlets from every end of the political spectrum reached saturation point. It's no wonder then that American critics began to reevaluate 'Starship Troopers'. After all, they'd been living in that world since its release. Contemporary reviews on this side of the Atlantic, however, were much more favourable. The likes of Empire Magazine recognised it as an "$80 million urine extraction project" and hailed its ability to savagely satirise vulgar militarism. The drumbeat of militarism never seemed to make enough noise to drown out the ability to recognise satire over here. However, as prominent voices now urge Ireland to reject its neutrality and as military spending by governments increases across Europe in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we may not be so lucky anymore.