Paul Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" is arguably a cult-classic; produced at the end of the 90s, the film's over-the-top sense of parody and irony caused it to be written off by some as unintentionally campy and haphazardly made. One only need to look at the pair of ensuing, straight-to-DVD sequels to realize fully why Verhoeven made the choices he made and why, until now, the original was the only really tolerable entry in the film adaptations of the series. Although there have been some prior, well-received Halo: Legends," which is a point worth mentioning, as "Starship Troopers: Invasion" has some curious similarities.
To be blunt, if one modified the unique design of the bugs and change the names of three characters in "Invasion," one could easily mistake the film for a poorly made tie-in to the Halo universe. The characters themselves are stock figures that one could trace the origins of back to "Aliens" in terms of stereotypes and attitudes, while the armor and even weapons of the Federation soldiers look very much influenced by the most recent entries in the Halo saga, namely "Halo: Reach." Sadly, this isn't a Halo movie and what little depth one might expect from even stock characters is absent, leaving "Invasion" to move at a breakneck pace giving you just enough time with each of its many characters to give the ensuing action a minor amount of emotional weight.
For fans of the series, a big draw to "Invasion" is the return of Generals Johnny Rico and Carl Jenkins, as well as Captain Carmen Ibanzes, however, none of the trio's original live-action actors returns to do voice-work. Ultimately, Rico, Jenkins and Ibanez serve as the only truly necessary named characters in the story, which revolves around an abandoned Federation ship possibly infested with bugs; however, the audience is duped into thinking one of the new characters to the film, Major Henry "Hero" Varro is the true focal point. The semi-bait-and-switch is a cruel move, as "Hero's" mysterious back-story is infinitely more entertaining than Ibanez' constant complaints, Jenkins' sniveling antics, and Rico's eleventh-hour, superhero-esque action sequences. The rest of the crew, is frankly, fodder for clichéd last stands and gory dismemberments, which are generally satisfying but as the film wraps up its bloated, non-stop finale, eventually wear thin.
I can't help but get the feeling that "Invasion" is meant as a backdoor pilot to a series of straight-to-DVD animated offerings. If so, some of the story decisions make sense, but "Invasion" is presented as a standalone offering, making it a viscerally pleasing, derivative, minor crowd pleaser. The CG animation is not as striking as one would expect and some of Aramaki's camera movements pulled me out of the cinematic experience and reminded me of something that would happen right before a video game cutscene switches to actual game play. Don't get me wrong, the designs are impressive, but the overall execution is sometimes as stiff as the forgettable voice cast. Ultimately, "Starship Troopers: Invasion" is superior to the two prior live-action sequels, but a sad shell of the glory of the 1997 original.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is noticeably low-contrast with poor black and shadow reproduction, as well as infrequent, but noticeable compression artifacts are present, most often during tight shots of muzzle bursts. The drab color scheme is reproduced generally well and the detail on the animated models is definitely eye-catching.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track sports great usage of the surround environment, but sadly that's where the outstanding ends. Dialogue sounds slightly removed from the action, which itself is very weak, with little LFE action. To be honest, I think a lot of the disappointment with the sound mix is a result of the original sound design itself. Portuguese, French, Spanish and Thai 5.1 tracks are included as well as English, English SDH, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Korean, Spanish and Thai subtitles.
The bonus features are quite substantial and interesting. First up is a feature-length, subtitled commentary from the director and a producer. If that's not enough, an 11-part, 80-minute making-of documentary gives a solid look at the creative process from all aspects. Finally a pair of deleted scenes and a wholly un-amusing "gag reel" round out the extras.
"Starship Troopers: Invasion" is wholly derivative but surprisingly well paced for a nearly 90-minute CGI feature. Sadly, the less than desirable technical presentation does take away from any true immersive quality of the experience. The film does however, come second to the original, Verhoeven cult-classic, but is entirely devoid of the heavy-handed parody and irony of that offering. Compared to the two most recent straight-to-DVD sequels, it's a marked improvement and decent genre entertainment. The extra effort in the behind-the-scenes department elevates the overall quality of the package just slightly. Recommended.