When a long-time Outposter reaches out and says that they want to write a Retro Review of Starship Troopers 2: Hero Of The Federation, there is of course only one suitable answer. You shine on, you crazy diamond!
So here is Wrenage with his explanation for a movie that defies explanation.
Phil Tippett came up in the comments awhile back, which reminded me of a guilty pleasure I forgot I had: Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation.
Starship Troopers 2 came out in 2004. The IMDB message boards were still going back then. In a fit of wackiness, I wrote a satirical review for them where I claimed Starship Troopers 2 was actually a highly-intelligent movie that served as a metaphor for militant feminism.
Check it out:
- The bugs represent the unstoppable progress of women. The Federation is the patriarchy. The patriarchy may rage against feminism, but they are only postponing the inevitable.
- The ineffective leader of the troopers is a PsyOps soldier. When he tried to be a man, he failed miserably. When he finally got in touch with his “feelings,” as in premonitions (his feminine side), he was able to rise to the occasion, albeit briefly.
- The true leader of the troopers was the sergeant, a strong woman who got things done. However, in her attempt to be an independent woman, she transcended the group think of feminism and had to be eliminated. This was shown by her affinity for cigars. Her Freudian desire to be a man could not be tolerated by her sisters. Her eventual demise was filmed as a rape because the only way to defeat her was to sexualize her back into a woman.
- The male general is whipped. He acts like a man in an overcompensating way, but a hot woman has no trouble playing him like a puppet for her cause.
- The representative of toxic masculinity is a murderer held prisoner in a furnace. Real men must burn in hell, after all. At the end of the film, toxic masculinity stands atop a phallic symbol as the bugs overrun the installation and defeat him.
- As toxic masculinity is destroyed, a woman “ascends” with knowledge to save the human race. At the end of the film, she also has a child, but the child is marked for the “meat grinder” because a right-to-choose has become part and parcel of feminism.
- There are other little things to comment on, as well. For example, a man plays a matronly nurse role and sings to a dying soldier, showing gender lines being blurred. Another female character guides a wimpy man to be as strong as a woman. Finally, the patriarchy is shown to be racist, as well, because they make an Asian guy a radio man, which is a stereotype.
The whole review was a joke, of course. Fast forward 17 years, and the joke is on me. My satire has become reality. Perhaps I should join the PsyOps Corps with my premonition ability. Regardless, the review may have been a joke, but my affinity for Starship Troopers 2 was not.
I have no interest in intentionally bad movies like Sharknado, but I can appreciate B movies that are trying their little heart out and Starship Troopers 2 is one.
A Tippett Of The Hat
Starship Troopers 2 was a made-for-TV movie that premiered on the Encore Action Channel. While the first Starship Troopers (1997) was a major theatrical release with a $105 million budget, Starship Troopers 2 had a budget of $7 million. That’s chicken feed. By way of comparison, the combined insurance on the legs of Jamie Lee Curtis and Tina Turner is about $7 million.
Phil Tippett, a creature effects legend, directed Starship Troopers 2. Tippett did the bug effects in the original Starship Troopers and has a ton of all-time great effects to his resume: the AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back, the Rancor in Return of the Jedi, dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and many, many more.
Tippett also has what, for my money, is the best dragon ever put on film: Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer. It still boggles my mind how great Vermithrax looks flying and breathing fire. If you want to learn more about the Go-Motion process used to create Vermithrax, check this out.
But let’s get down to brass tacks. Is Phil Tippett as good a director as he is a creature effects guru?
Well…no. There is a degree of clunkiness to Starship Troopers 2. The action scenes are clumsy, the CGI effects are shiny, like they needed another rendering pass. Shoddy staging exists. I don’t like the weapons effects either. The guns basically have barrels that light up when they fire and that’s it. The guns are then given sound effects and camera judder, and the actors try to sell that they are shooting something with more power than a Christmas light bulb, but it doesn’t work.
A lot of that isn’t Tippett’s fault. He was basically putting a move together with spit and baling wire and deserves something of a pass for that. Nevertheless, other directors have transcending such limitations to put something compelling on screen. At the end of the day, Tippett is merely serviceable in the director’s chair.
Probably the best scene in Starship Troopers 2 is when the bugs give their mission statement. All of the actors are lit by blue light. The scene eventually focuses on a character’s mouth, and the bluish hue of his lips and teeth, combined with the words coming out, is suitably malevolent.
What Starship Troopers 2 probably has working most in its favor is writer Edward Neumeier. Neumeier wrote the original Starship Troopers, plus Robocop. Neumeier doesn’t craft an original story for Starship Troopers 2, but he crafts a story that works at a level of pulp that matches the budget. At the end of the day Starship Troopers 2 is a pod-person story, or maybe a Puppet Masters story is a better comparison (with perhaps a bit of Night of the Living Dead thrown in with its siege setting).
In this regard, Starship Troopers 2 also reminds me of The Howling V, another B movie that is held together by a story that is familiar but good enough to help the movie overcome certain limitations.
At the end of the day, story is most likely why I accept movies like Starship Troopers 2 and Howling V. I’m a sucker for pod-people plots and Agathe Christie And-Then-There-Were-None plots.
It’s A Bit Of A Downcast
When it comes to the cast of Starship Troopers 2, things are pretty sparse, as well.
The movie’s most recognizable face is Ed Lauter. I love Lauter. He’ll forever be the guy King Kong ’76 shook off a log, and the guy who got stabbed to death by Anthony Hopkins’s dummy in Magic (1978). As much as I love Lauter, let’s do some real talk here. If Lauter is the most recognizable face in a 2004 movie, then it’s pretty likely you aren’t looking at a blockbuster.
Next, you’ve got Brenda Strong. She has done a lot of TV work, included Star Trek: The Next Generation and MacGuyver; and really, once a person has shared the set with MacGuyver’s magnificent mane, what more do they need to do to prove themselves? Strong also pops up in the occasional A-list movie, like Red Dragon (2002).
Beyond that, you got…
Richard Burgi is the star of Starship Troopers 2. He plays Toxic Masculinity, or Dax, to the layperson. Burgi was in an early Chris Evans vehicle, Cellular (2004) and showed up in the 2009 Friday the 13th reboot. He does an okay job flexing his biceps in Starship Troopers 2, which appear to be natty.
Ed Quinn has done some TV work and other B movie work, but nothing in particular of his filmography stood out. He could have a career as a poor man’s Bradley Cooper, though. As Spielbergo is to Speilberg, Quinn could be to Cooper.
When it comes to the rest of the cast, they do their jobs. Starship Troopers 2 is basically a movie populated by working Joes trying to make a living in the film industry. Good on them for getting a credit.
If any cast member manages to set themselves apart, that would be J.P. Manoux. Manoux is also a recognizable face from Fruit-of-the-Loom commercials, The Wayne Brady Show and as the Dean’s doppelganger on Community. In Starship Troopers 2, Manoux plays a shell-shocked soldier with a nervous, twitchy weirdness that makes him instantly sympathetic.
Would You Like To Know Roar?
Apparently, there was a sequel to Starship Troopers 2 called Starship Troopers 3: Marauder. They even got Casper Van Dien to return. They also finally used the power armor that fans of the Starship Troopers novel have always wanted to see onscreen. I guess they no longer wanted to see power armor by the time Starship Troopers 3 came out in 2008, as it was released direct-to-DVD.
I have never seen Starship Troopers 3 because Starship Troopers 2 gave me all I need of the Starship Troopers universe. I had a great time writing that goofy review way back when. Too bad the IMDB boards got cancelled. There were some great posts there. I especially liked when people who worked on films would go into the individual movie forums and tell tales out of school.
And I have to wonder…did Ed Neumeier know what he was doing? Did he genuinely write a metaphor for militant feminism, and I happened to have cracked his code? Or was it all an accident, and a cigar is just a cigar, even if it is smoked by a Gina Carano-type character?
Wait a second…
Phil Tippett worked on Jurassic Park…
Kathleen Kennedy produced Jurassic Park…
Starship Troopers 2 was a Tristar production…
Hook was a Tristar production…
Kathleen Kennedy produced Hook…
What if Starship Troopers 2 was Kathleen Kennedy’s beta test, to inject feminism into franchises? She went to Phil Tippett and said:
“Hey, Phil, I know you’ve always wanted to direct a movie. I can make that happen. But you’re going to do it my way, and I cannot be involved on paper.”
And who would notice anything sneaky put into a movie like Starship Troopers 2? Yet our subconsciousness noticed and made our brains more malleable for Kennedy’s ultimate agenda, which she put into motion roughly ten years later with The Force Awakens.
It all makes sense now. Kennedy was playing the laying-in-the-weeds, long game the whole time. She is woman, hear her roar!
The bug people are coming! They’re here! They’re here! You’re next! YOU’RE NEXT!