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We are sent back to the battlefield, as the Federation's best Mobile Infantry unit are slowly being overpowered by the killer bugs. They are light years from the nearest reinforcements and are trapped on a remote outpost. They set up protection around the post, keeping all the bugs waiting for them to leave. But now the enemy is in the outpost, in a way which they would have never thought of. Written by
Not the worst film ever by a long shot, but it still gets an "F"
Series note: Although this film is something of a train wreck, it would be even worse if one didn't watch the original Starship Troopers (1997) first. The first film is excellent, and will help you figure out what is supposed to be going on in this film.
A group of Starship Troopers becomes stranded while engaged in warfare on a "bug planet". They make it to a mostly abandoned makeshift fort and succeed in holding the enemy at bay outside, only to discover that they may have enemies just as lethal amongst themselves.
Phil Tippet may be a genius with visual effects in other films, but in his first turn as a director, he's made a mess of Starship Troopers 2. Admittedly, it's not a complete loss. I actually ended up giving the film a 5 out of 10, even though that is a rating I usually reserve only for "so bad they're good" films. No, Starship Troopers isn't really good, but at times it threatened to get a 3 out of 10, while the closer it got to the finish line, the more it started seeming like a 7 out of 10 to me. I decided to average it. Keep in mind that in my rating system, a 6 is equivalent to the grade of D.
Oddly, I thought that the script was almost worth a C (or a 7) throughout the film. The biggest problem script-wise, aside from the fact that the tone of this film is completely different than the first (a fact that will turn off many viewers, but for which I wouldn't subtract any points in itself), was that the dialogue is overburdened with pseudo-militaristic gobbledy-gook and there are far too many characters to keep track of and care about. Towards the end, when the film turned more into a horror film than its previous contentment with being a war flick (this one is never really sci-fi), I thought the ideas were actually very good. I'm a huge horror fan, and the horror material worked for me. There was a nice amount of gore and decent suspense.
But those are the positives. Let's get to what the film does wrong. The biggest problems are the cinematography, lighting, and production design. For some reason, the opening scene of the film, which we could say goes on for maybe 40 minutes (far too long), is almost exclusively close-ups. We routinely have a screenful of someone's nose, mouth, or some other body part. Close-ups aren't bad in general, but when that's all a viewer sees for 40 minutes, and in the midst of what's supposed to be a grand-scale war with hundreds or thousands of combatants, it's awful. Everything is also too dark, and when it isn't dark, it's usually too bright, in that Tippet has a light or two pointing directly at the camera. And during fight scenes, we only get to see troopers face-on. We hardly ever see what they're shooting at.
Now, being generous, we might say that the point of all the above is to convey the claustrophobia and chaos of war. But that's being far too generous. The original Starship Troopers conveyed the chaos of war very nicely. In Starship Troopers 2, Tippet is really trying to cover up the fact that they had no budget to build sets, acquire props, hire many cast members, pay for cgi-rendered environments or even matte paintings. There are some cgi-rendered bug aliens (and maybe a couple small things done with mechanicals) and there is one set, but that's about it. Most of the film is poorly lit and backlit so that we can't see that the actors are on a mostly empty soundstage. The close-ups are an attempt to distract our attention from the small, low-budget scale of things. All of these aspects fail miserably. At least until halfway through the film, when we begin to see some cinematography and lighting on the single set that we could call "almost competent".
Even though I wouldn't subtract points for the difference in tone, it is quite a shock if you start watching Starship Troopers 2 expecting anything even remotely resembling the first film. The first film is a clever satire on society and militaristic thinking via its depiction of a future, war-hungry culture. We see clever commentaries on behavioral norms in our culture via different norms depicted in the film. We see funny things that are very similar to our present culture, but that are underscored by their temporal alienation. The first film is an ingenious, fast paced, epic scaled sci-fi/war/horror extravaganza.
This film on the other hand is just about as pedestrian as you can get. Even though the horror material is good once it finally arrives, it isn't exactly groundbreaking. There is no satire here, no cleverness, it's not fast paced, and it's the complete opposite of epic scaled. Even the tongue-in-cheek military/war advertisements shown on a computer-like screen from the first film fall flat here because they're presented more like television commercials with no window dressing or explanation for context.
Starship Troopers 2 isn't a complete failure, but I can't recommend it beyond its curiosity value, or for die-hard horror fans who are slightly masochistic and don't mind sitting through the war material to get to something more interesting. If a Starship Troopers 3 is ever made, more than likely you'll be able to skip this entry. As things stand now, 2 is not at all necessary to the story. This is more like an obscure footnote to the first film, about some long lost troop that no one really cares about. Only the new kind of "monster" may be of any interest.
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