Having reviewed the first Starship Troopers film recently, I feel duty-bound, as a hopeless completist, to review its direct-to-dvd sequels, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder. First up, ST2.
Immediately after viewing ST for the first time, a sequel went straight to the top of my most wanted movies. All sorts of possibilities presented themselves: new worlds, bigger battles, even more thrills and spills. Sadly, the distinctly average box-office returns from the first film destroyed any hope of this. Though fanboy interest like mine sustained the occasional rumour, a sequel looked ever more unlikely.
However, these hopes had reckoned without the booming straight-to-dvd market a few years later. Sony decided that they wanted a piece of this action, and began to scour for potential franchises that might make suitable material for a cheapo sequel. Fortunately for them, the team behind the first movie (producer Jon Davison, writer Ed Neumeier and SFX king Phil Tippett) presented them with an offer: a sequel to Starship Troopers, made for just 5% of the original film’s $100m budget. How could they say no?
Originally Clancy Brown was set to reprise his role as Sgt. Zim from the first film as the lead in the sequel, but schedule clashes forced him to pull out. So his character was rewritten as Dax, played by Richard Burgi, and one suspects this was ultimately for the best, given the film’s ending.
ST2 posits that the war has ground to a stalemate since the first film, with neither side gaining the upper hand. On one planet, a small bunch of surviving troopers hole up in an abandoned command post, waiting for rescue. In this small enclosed space (a useful plot device for the low budget), a new type of bug with a very cunning plan makes its presence known…
Given its extreme budgetary limitations, Hero of the Federation could have been a hell of a lot worse. Certainly, with no characters being carried over from the first film, and without the directorial muscle of Verhoeven (or, it has to be said, the financial muscle that came with him), ST2 fails to convincingly expand on the themes of the original film. Any fan looking for the all-out action of ST1 will be sorely disappointed. Bits of SFX footage from the original crop up here as FedNet newsreel footage; FedNet itself is sadly only retained as a bookend device. And the new battles are indeed rather cheap looking, particularly so in the opening sequence.
The real weakness however lies in Phil Tippett’s direction. Admittedly his hands were tied in terms of budget, but a stronger director would probably have been able to hide it better. Certainly they would have tightened the pace and developed the atmosphere of tension a lot more. The look of the film is also rather flat – again, this is due in part to the budget and technology used, so perhaps Tippett couldn’t do much about that. Nevertheless, the film suffers for it.
That is not to say that the film is a total loss though. As a companion piece that pushes forward the story of the bug war, it succeeds to a degree (if one can look past the production values). The epic tone of Verhoeven’s original is gone, true; but in its place is one of claustrophobic sci-fi/horror, similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing. There’s a nice smattering of satire in Neumeier’s script which goes some way to bridging the gap between the two; the Federation remains the villain here, as it was in the original, and Dax’s cynicism about his government is the logical conclusion to a war that has repeatedly failed to be won (as promised in ST1).
The cast aren’t too bad – Burgi is good value, while the rest play their parts well enough. The film’s ending is good too, with the Federation presenting Dax as a Stakhanov-type figure to boost their government’s popularity and their troops’ morale – a tone certainly in keeping with that of its predecessor.
Unable to compete with the original film, ST2 deliberately lowered its ambitions and as a result feels like a much smaller movie than one might have wished for. But it does succeed on its own limited terms if, like me, you are a fairly forgiving viewer.