The first Starship Troopers, closely following the style of Robocop, writer Ed Neumeier’s debut collaboration with director Paul Verhoeven, was a searing satire on neo-Nazism that incorporated all the trappings of 1940s fascism transposed into outer space and re-envisioned for a generation that would eventually produce a president like Donald Trump. But there’s no point in creating satire that only appeals to those who already agree with your point of view, and Verhoeven’s film certainly contained enough carnage to cater to the knuckleheads who might take it on face value.
Just like Robocop, Starship Troopers spawned a cottage industry that the writer has found himself trapped inside, and here he is twenty years on, reuniting with star Casper van Dien for the third time in this fourth sequel. Neumeier’s sense of satire hasn’t left him, and despite the law of diminishing returns blighting the franchise – we’re firmly into animated sequel territory here – Traitor of Mars is in some respects quite a pointed polemic on the perils of isolationism. Brexiteers will undoubtedly miss the point.
With maverick Johnny Rico having been demoted to a training station on Mars, far from the Bug fight, there’s obviously more going on than meets the eye. New Sky Marshall Amy Snapp (Neves) is unhappy about Mars’ bid for independence, and with a perfect fall guy in the form of our returning psychic Carl Jenkins (Doran, with Neil Patrick Harris’ career having taken him elsewhere), she has a plan afoot that will side-line those pesky Red Planeters permanently. What she doesn’t count on is the dogged persistence of unkillable Rico and ex-girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Christian, replacing Denise Richards) – or indeed his other ex-girlfriend (the dead one) Dizzy (Meyer, making a ‘surprise’ return).
Like the animated Resident Evil films, this is an instalment that knows exactly what it wants to be and hits all its targets squarely on the jaw. The double-dealing that underpins the plot is so apparent it barely counts as intrigue at all, and this being Starship Troopers we don’t mind the characters lacking in dimension; Neumeier’s film series have always favoured ideas over authenticity anyway – and the animation is so slick it’s only when our protagonists remove their helmets that we truly realise it isn’t live action. So our quirk-distinguished heroes are thrown into a variety of situations, with the next bout of shooting or blowing things up never more than a few minutes away.
It’s not overly engaging, and other than in its politics it doesn’t say an awful lot. But that’s beside the point; this is a colourful thrill rush for the fans who enjoyed the colourful thrill rush of the original film, and in those terms it does its job.
Special Features: Five featurettes
STARSHIP TROOPERS: TRAITOR OF MARS / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: SHINJI ARAMAKI, MASARU MATSUMOTO / SCREENPLAY: EDWARD NEUMEIER / STARRING: CASPER VAN DIEN, DINA MEYER, DeRAY DAVIS, LUCI CHRISTIAN, EMILY NEVES, JUSTIN DORAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW