Background: Direct to video sequels heavily populate the market and if you believe the popular press, almost all of them are truly bad in many ways, merely cashing in on franchises without the effort and expense of their originals. Such was the case with Starship Troopers, the second volume in the series dispensing with the popular cast for a host of no-names in what amounted to one of the worst such examples of sucky sequels on record. The original source material penned by author Robert Heinlein, one of the most influential science fiction writers of a foregone generation, influential in politics, and an early adopter of racial equality, was tossed aside for a straightforward action movie made on a shoestring budget. Having served in the military and written extensively about his belief in a meritocracy, Heinlein suggested a balance between the "rights" everyone was given with the responsibilities of citizenship, all in stark contrast to his peers given the age when he wrote a controversial novel called Starship Troopers back in 1959. The novel focused on a rich Filipino named Johnny Rico, a high school athlete and pretty boy who defies his family to join the military as a ground pounding mobile infantry grunt. The Earth Federation is involved in a conflict with an alien race of super destructive and huge bugs, their high tech weaponry serving to balance their survivability against the physically superior race. The idea that one must earn the ability to vote or run for office via military service was not new, even years later it is often a selling point for candidates running for office to expound upon their military records. The novel was considered to promote military interests, right wing thinking, and anti-intellectual ideas, the critics forgetting that it also starred a minority who rose through the ranks in a system far from any that were popularly supported at the time (this was pre-Civil Rights marches folks!). While some people were upset at how director Verhoeven butchered Heinlein's work, others eventually came around to appreciate the parody nature of the release, a loyal following allowing for the release of yet another sequel in the form of Starship Troopers: Marauder.
Movie: Starship Troopers: Marauder picks up years later after the "feel good" conclusion of Starship Troopers has apparently diminished. Rather than discard the parody nature of the original as the second volume of the series did, this time it was played up even more at times, the biggest selling point being that Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) was back as a full fledged colonel. Still known more for his exploits as a hero years ago more than anything he had done recently, Johnny is now in charge of an outpost base protected by an electric shield; the bugs testing it regularly (ala the Jurassic Park dynamic of the critters being smarter than the humans give them credit for). Still a Roughneck, Johnny leads by example as he expects his subordinates to tote the line and fight until they die, the immediate thing I noticed was how his previous hard core attitude had softened slightly. The initial story develops along the line that a popular Sky Marshall is paying the base a surprise visit, Johnny tipped off by an old friend that has now been promoted to General.
Sky Marshall Anoke (Stephen Hogan) being patterned after a Bush cabinet member, sings glorious patriotism songs that the general populace finds lame while the indoctrinated military personnel swoon and tap their toes to his rousing lyrics (a full length music video is included as an extra). The Federation is now engaged in protecting outlying farming settlements and the surprise inspection seems questionable given the active bug population of the planet, Johnny and General Dix Hauser (Boris Kodjoe) following orders as the SM moves freely about the base. Accompanying the Federations top man and Dix (his Chief of Staff), is a pilot known well by Johnny, Captain Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock of Enterprise fame), her familiarity with Johnny rubbing fiancee Dix the wrong way. Some romantic tension aside, the three seem hard pressed to fill in for the original trio of the first movie (Johnny, Carl, and Carmen) but this being a low budget sequel means making due.
As the story unfolds, Dix and Johnny get into an argument over some of the local population upset at Federation policies, leading to a brawl in a local tavern where Dix gets beaten by some farmers that aren't keen on the military. Johnny stands up for them and is ordered arrested, soon afterward a breach in the perimeter fence allowing an overwhelming force of bugs to break into the compound and tear apart the soldiers assigned to it. Johnny makes it clear that he isn't going to be arrested when he is needed to protect his people so he fends off the general and starts the counter offensive, the end result being heavy casualties that are pinned on him. His sham trial is like all the others the government puts on, his guilt automatic and his sentence to be carried out later that day. In the mean time, Lola and Anoke are stranded on a desolate planet inside the bug quarantine zone, having survived the attack but knocked out of hyperspace and marooned. Evidence of a larger cover up is presented to Dix and he is thwarted when trying to discover what has happened to his fiancee and mentor, the plot thickening when Admiral Enolo Phid (Amanda Donohoe) has Dix's sources killed.
With nowhere left to turn, Dix recruits the now-discredited Johnny for a suicide mission, the movie bouncing between his preparations to invade bug territory with a single squad of fellow infantry and Lola's small band of misfits trying to cross the desolate planet of OM-1 to secure supplies. Lola notices the Sky Marshall as a flaky wacko but the rest of the group seems oblivious, especially a religious flight attendant who openly prays to her god in defiance of regulations (cute Marnette Patterson as Holly Little). The group is being herded to a destination by the bugs but Lola is the only one cognizant of the fact, leading to some interesting developments that broadcast the rest of the story well in advance of the continued exposition pieces. Rico has his own troubles with the new Marauder attack gear serving as his squad's only hope of survival, the rescue attempt relying heavily on the attack gear that is so under used in the final battle sequence that you'll know why it wasn't deployed in the earlier volumes of the franchise.
Okay, the acting was every bit as bad as the previous volumes but without any of the tongue in cheek appeal of the original. The directing job by Ed Neumeier, the guy who wrote all three movies, was lacking and you will wonder why the CGI effects were so poorly handled here. Yeah, there were some new bugs to deal with, new abilities of the aliens, and even a few ideas that weren't skewered enough in the original movie but the inconsistencies of the characters and the way the Federation was portrayed this time was such that any hopes of salvaging the thematic aspects of the show were dashed early on into the movie. I'd go so far as to say that anyone watching the movie and all the extras will have earned their citizenship since it was so horribly lame. If this is the best that Ed could come up with over the years he has had to think about it, perhaps Verhoeven need be back in the director's seat with a team of better writer's to end the series on a high note, or perhaps allow someone to come in ala The Dark Knight and go back to the roots of the book for real. Suffice it to say that I rated this one as a Skip It but don't make the mistake to think it was in the "so bad, it's good" category because frankly, it showed the difference between the kind of director Verhoeven is versus one of the creative staff all too readily (the bulk of Neumeier's works are in derivative projects of Verhoeven's including Starship Troopers and Robocop spinoffs).
Picture: Starship Troopers: Marauder was presented in widescreen color using an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p picture as shot by Director Ed Neumeier. Looking more like a made for cable extravaganza (look for it on the Sci-Fi Channel soon) on a tiny budget, the movie showed some really weak special effects, the CGI rating about as low on the scale as most ten year old computer games would these days, the aliens and space ship effects far inferior to the original movie. I'm used to shows like this being shot in Canada but this one went an extra step out of the ordinary to be shot in South Africa, perhaps given tax credits to boost the working capital of the release further than the first sequel had to work with. The flesh tones were generally accurate but there was more grain than expected and some moiré was noticed on a couple of occasions. The AVC codec allowed for the enhanced Blu-Ray resolution expected but the down side is that on such a low budget stinker as this one, it only amplifies the low end look of the show, the bitrate hovering in the mid to upper 25 Mbps area. I believe that the more "high end" your set up is, the worse this one will look so even if the story weren't so poorly written, the technical considerations would prohibit serious consideration for picking up a copy of the movie.
Sound: The primary audio track was the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track in English, with secondary tracks in 5.1 Dolby Digital in French, Spanish, Thai, and Portuguese; subtitles in all those languages as well as a couple of Chinese tracks, Korean, and even Indonesian. The primary track used the standardized sampling rate of 48 kHz and had a wildly variable range moving from under 1 Mbps to over 2 Mbps, typically hovering around 1.7 for those of you into the numbers. There was a decent amount of separation between the channels with the surrounds and bass kicking in mostly during the action sequences; the vocals almost always sounding canned in a studio during post production than a natural part of the events unfolding. While the audio effects lacked some of the subtlety the original had, this was one area of the movie that wasn't a complete waste of time.
Extras: While not as plentiful as Starship Troopers, there were still some decent extras included this time, the Director commentary by director/writer Ed Neumeier, producer David Lancaster, and special effects supervisor Robert Skotak. The commentary was a huge cheerleader effort but in defense of it, they admitted openly to some of the faults it had (including mentioning making it "on budget", alluding to how cheaply it was made very early on), and provided some insight into how the flick was made. A second commentary included Ed Neumeier, Casper Van Dien, and Jolene Blalock, this one focusing more on the experiences of the cast but still largely positive, despite the evidence confronting the world on the screen (the movie itself). There was an extended music video for "It's A Good Day To Die", a short feature called Evolution: The Bugs of Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, detailing some of the newer alien life forms used in the movie, and a feature called Enlist: Marauder's Mobile Infantry, spending most of the time talking about the characters. There was once again the ability to import your own picture into the movie and some trailers but my favorite extra was the ability to watch the movie in Marauder Mode; some interviews, clips, and background information popping up on the screen as the movie played. It was less engaging than the first release in the series but still added value as it was more interesting than the movie to me. There was also a BD-Live feature that allows internet hooked up players to see more trailers and bonus footage, my preference being to include anything on the disc rather than be stuck "renting it" as this set up allows (Sony could discontinue, charge, or change content for their online material while the disc will always be available to those that own it).
Final Thoughts: Starship Troopers: Marauder probably could have been worse though it would have taken a whole lot of effort to do so. The desire of the director to focus more on current events (thinly disguised at that) than long term themes such as Verhoeven did will limit the appeal of the show even more, the post 911 world being the primary topic of the weak humor. The parody aspects were present to a smaller degree too but handled much more loosely and suffering as a result, making the movie serve as something akin to Heinlein's revenge for how his books were bastardized by the franchise as far as I'm concerned. The technical considerations were all showing the low budget of direct to video release, the extras the best part of the disc, and the weakest elements of the first movie kept while a whole lot of new weaknesses were tossed in to make it a questionable outing at best. I know the book was geared towards young readers but as dumbed down as this one was, it made the original movie shine far greater by comparison (and it was heavily flawed outside of the thematic considerations). Maybe it would be best to apply one of the movie slogans to sequels like this in general and say "The only good sequel is a dead sequel!" (though well made sequels are not completely foreign these days, such as The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, and a number of exceptions to the rule.