Thursday, February 25, 2016

Star Ship Troopers 2 (2004)

A troop of soldiers under chummy General Shepherd (Ed Lauter) cursed with godawful names like Lei Sahara (Colleen Porch), Billy Otter (Cy Carter) or Otis Brick (Billy Brown) has to flee from a bug onslaught into an abandoned outpost. Now their survival hangs on getting the outpost’s defence mechanisms working again, repairing the radio, and not getting killed until an evacuation ship actually bothers to arrive.

That’ll be rather difficult, for the General is thought dead somewhere outside for the first half of the movie or so, and the ranking officer isn’t competent Sergeant Dede Rake (Brenda Strong) but Psi Corps incompetent Pavlov Dill (Lawrence Monoson). Fortunately, the last garrison of the outpost has left behind embittered war hero V.J. Dax (Richard Burgi) to rot away in a cell for killing a superior officer. When push comes to shove, Sahara frees Dax who proceeds to murder a lot of insectoid aliens.

However, the traditional siege scenario soon becomes less important, because the film’s second half turns into an ickier variation on Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

And I’m rather glad it does, too, for where the first half of Phil Tippett’s direct-to-video sequel to Paul Verhoeven’s second-most annoying movie suffers a bit from not actually having the budget for all that much bug fighting and so uses bad lighting, fog, dust and awkward camera angles to hide the fact it can’t afford enough decent (for 2004) CGI to actually be the low budget SF war movie it’d like to be. Aliens and alien planets, it turns out, are much more difficult to do on a budget than Korea or France.

Unlike a lot of people writing this one up on the net, I’m pretty happy with the fact that Star Ship Troopers 2 – apart from some perfunctory stuff right at the beginning and the end and those horrible, idiotically awful character names – mostly avoids the blunt and painfully obvious satire of the original and leaves Verhoeven’s toe-curdling camp out in the woods for Jason Voorhees to do his thing with it. Of course, this also means this film doesn’t have much more to say about militarism and its culture than “war is kinda bad, you know but we really don’t like insects”, but on the other hand, that goes for the Verhoeven original too, and that one spent much more time on being obvious.

Despite its sometimes all too visible lack of funds and corresponding visual oomph or of a director visually imaginative enough to make up for that lack, the first half of the film is an okay SF variant of 50s low budget war movie tropes, from the inexperienced and cowardly Lt to the more experienced, battle-hardened Sergeant who still has to follow his orders, and of course the character who has enough of war but still will be a gosh-darn hero when the time comes. It’s played pretty unironically with little new added to the well-worn figures of this particular dance beyond the transplantation of the whole affair to a far way planet in the future. Fortunately, these tropes are so well-worn for a reason, and Tippett’s a competent enough hand to make things work on a basic level.

Still, the film grows a lot more entertaining once the paranoid second half gets going. The effects are certainly becoming more interesting, as well as pleasantly icky, and the plot grows more lively – if not exactly more believable – with characters actually able to interact more directly with the things threatening them than shooting at barely okay CGI that mostly stays away far enough from them they don’t have to appear in the same shot. This set-up also enables Tippett to insert some very familiar feeling suspense sequences, a bit of weirdness in the habits and customs of the bug possessed, and even a minute or two borrowed from the Species movies.

It’s most probably not art, but as a low budget SF war movie that turns into a paranoid invasion tale, Star Ship Troopers 2 is a perfectly serviceable film.

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