OUR NON SPOILER REVIEW OF STARSHIP TROOPERS 2:
HERO OF THE FEDERATION
Whenever someone is making a sequel to a popular film, he faces the same problem - how to really move the story forward, how to avoid making a shallow money-oriented repetition of the original movie. Most filmmakers can't solve that problem. The fear of making something new is big, the pressure from all parties involved to keep it a "safe" carbon copy of an original is high and, let's face the truth, many times doing a sequel is like trying to continue the joke when you've already said the punchline. Nowadays many summer sequels are in fact remakes. It's the same storyline with some minor additions, some new faces and usually pointless overblown visuals which have to sell a product. Yes, "a product", not "a film" anymore. It seems almost nobody treats sequels seriously. Often these are "let's make more money" shows for the makers and "see and forget" gigs for the audience.
Luckily there are exceptions. Sometimes a sequel can open up the world presented in an original, make it more real and more fascinating. The best example of this phenomenon is The Empire Strikes Back, which gave so much depth to the Star Wars universe. Luckily, such a glorious exception is also Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation.
This low budget follow-up to the amazing Paul Verhoeven film takes us once again into the middle of a futuristic war with the alien species known as the Arachnids. But this time is different, as the tagline for the movie says. Instead of the big epic battles in the vein ofZulu or A Bridge Too Far which we saw in the first Starship Troopers, we follow the story of a small platoon of troopers trapped in an outpost surrounded by aliens and hopelessly waiting for the pick up. If you like comparisons it's more like Platoon orSahara.
Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation is a new tale -- not a remake of the original, not the forced follow-up. It is something fresh, something that stands on its own feet, yet coexists in the same world as the first film. Right from the beginning we know that the very same people stand behind both movies. There's this unique ironic way of writing (thanks to screenwriter Ed Neumeier), dynamic action and jaw-dropping photo-realistic visual effects (thanks to Tippett Studio), and this overall dark future/high quality feel (thanks to the producer Jon Davison).
Most of the story takes place in the aforementioned outpost. There we can really get familiar with troopers who are a wolfpack of varied and well-written characters. These people seem to be real -- not cardboard cutouts -- and while the characterization of some of them could be extended, they're very lively, motivated, driven by various things. The cast in ST2 is not the "beautiful people only," like it was in the first movie, and that choice really helped to tell a somehow more complicated story. The acting is good and in the cases of such roles as Lt. Dill (Lawrence Monson), Lei Sahara (Colleen Porch), Joe Griff (Ed Quinn) and Captain Dax (Richard Burgi) - bullseye perfect.
The story itself is an interesting one. Although what we see is happening to this small platoon, the things they are going through will decide the fate mankind as a whole. So it's, in a way, grander in scale than all that happened in ST1. The plot has strong shades ofInvasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing From Another World, but it has many original elements too. This time we learn more about the Arachnids, why they are fighting with humankind and what's their agenda. It's very cleverly told. It's surprising. It's satisfying. Moreover, we can learn more about ourselves, as -- in every good science fiction tale -- the futuristic surroundings and happenings are the mirrors for the truths about contemporary society and people. If the first movie's motto was "War makes everyone a fascist," I would say that the second one's message is "War makes everyone a victim."
Many fans, knowing the low-budget character of the project, had their doubts about the quality of CGI in the new movie. Luckily, visuals of Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation, while obviously scaled down in comparison to the things we've seen in the original, are breathtaking and tip-top - there's still this photorealistic "documentary" feel to them. It's amazing that now, when even the big bucks movies are filled with videogame-like visuals, the team lead by Eric Leven (under the mentorship of Phil Tippett) accomplished such real-feel effects. Personally, I remember that news about Leven getting the job of Supervisor on this show made my day because I had in memory his subtle effects from The Haunting movie (Catherine Zeta-Jones' eerie cold breath, anyone?). I knew he would be perfect for the job. And he was. Visuals in ST2 are better than what you can see in so-called summer blockbusters.
But actually there's much more to say about it. A living legend of movie magic industry and at the same time, first time director, Phil Tippett knows the nature of effects and uses them in a very clever way. Here effects are *helping* to tell the story, not overshadowing it. Tippett is a real storyteller whose directing style is simple but very effective.
Is Hero of the Federation a perfect movie? No. It has some flaws. It would be nice to see more time given to certain characters. It would be better if the opening Fed Net reel wasn't using stock footage from the first movie. It would be more powerful if the movie was a bit longer. But these are small complaints. In general this movie works really well. Most of the original Troopers fans will enjoy it greatly and possibly even some people who didn't like the first one will find something special about the sequel.
The makers of Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation did something really big - they won a big battle with low-budget and fast shooting schedule. They made "a film", not "a product", and, let me say it again, a really good, top-notch film. Let's hope that we'll see more Tippett-Davison-Neumeier collaborations in the near future.