If Starship Troopers 2 aimed low but managed to hit some of its targets, part 3 aims higher but misses far more. Some will find ST3 better than part two simply because it is more in keeping with the scope of the first film, but for my money, it is the least enjoyable of the three.
The ‘War on Bugs’ rumbles on, and Colonel John Rico (Casper Van Dien, reprising his role from the first film), though still loyal to the Federation, has become a bit more cynical about the conflict since we last saw him. After a bar brawl, he is convicted of treason and sentenced to hang. However, the Federation actually has other plans for him: to head up a top-secret team that will take on the most terrifying bug yet.
After the ultra-cheap first sequel, it appeared that the Troopers franchise was dead in the water. But clearly a reasonable profit was made, so this second sequel was announced, along with a slightly improved budget. Even better, this budget stretched far enough to rope in the star of the original movie, Casper Van Dien (although I’m not sure he was that hard to get: given the state of his post-Troopers career, he would probably have made this film for $20 and a Snickers bar).
Certainly the return of Van Dien as Johnny Rico is worth some sort of a cheer (of course, only in a Troopers sequel could the appearance of CVD raise any sort of a cheer). Whatever you might think of his thespian skills, he provides some welcome continuity from ST1. Also returning is Ed Neumeier, writer of parts one and two, as writer for part three, as well as making his directorial debut here. Neumeier is a decent genre writer, so any effort from him is usually worth a look.
Unfortunately, without the sure hand of a director like Paul Verhoeven at the helm, it seems Neumeier let this one get away from him. The script is a fairly messy affair that aims to mix the crowd-pleasing action of the first film with a satire on government involvement with religion. Sounds good on paper, but it fails on both counts.
The action, just as in the first sequel, is limited by the low budget of the production. Although there are several locations used in this film, and a variety of battles, they mostly look like bargain basement stuff. In trying to match the first film without the same resources, the film ends up looking like a (reasonably budgeted) TV show. The final battle, involving Rico’s super squad tooled up with the Marauder suits from the original Robert Heinlein novel, should have been a winner. Instead it is a fleeting damp squib, lasting barely a few seconds and cursed with some of the cheapest-looking CGI I’ve seen in quite some time.
The satire, on the other hand, is just bewildering. The idea of the Sky Marshal (effectively President of the Federation) also topping the charts as a pin-up pop star is an amusing idea, but this sets the film up as a spoof of American Idol, The X Factor and the like. A dictator being worshipped as a hero by his people is nothing new of course, but here it is basically played for cheap laughs, and thus feels somewhat out of place.
More confusing are the religious themes of the film. It’s never terribly clear exactly what Neumeier is trying to say. Sometimes it seems he’s attacking people for believing in any religion at all (someone is admonished for believing in “the wrong God!”); then at the end, the (always wonderful) FedNet announcer states “Federation experts agree that: A: God exists, B: He’s on our side, C: He wants us to win” – clearly a swipe at the way that governments use religion for their own dastardly ends. Yet lead character, and former Rico squeeze, Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock) becomes a believer in a weird sort of happy ending. Some reviewers have even suggested Neumeier is pushing a pro-Christian agenda. So what is the audience supposed to make of it all?
The rest of the film doesn’t fare much better. It’s good to see a story that involves other planets, and the surprising return of a key villain from the first film creates some intrigue. The story’s focus isn’t always clear – we start off expectedly following Rico, but he then disappears for several prolonged stretches while the story’s main plot is developed.
The new characters aren’t up to much either. Jolene Blalock plays pretty much the same character she played in Star Trek: Enterprise. Stephen Hogan’s Sky Marshal Anoke is amusing for a while, and Amanda Donohoe adds a bit of value as a high-ranking Federation official. It would have been nice to see one or two other characters from the original beyond Rico – what are Jake Busey or Neil Patrick Harris doing these days anyway? Van Dien himself is fine, clearly at home playing the simple American good guy (though he does look surprisingly short in or two shots).
So a messy second sequel overall. It has its moments, but the confusing tone, uneven pace and lacklustre action seriously impede one’s enjoyment. Unless Sony decide to invest some serious cash in a proper sequel, it regrettably might be time to lay this franchise to rest.