It’s been 20 years since the first Starship Troopers film debuted, and though there have been a number of sequels produced since then, the fifth film in the franchise — Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars — is the proper sequel the original deserves.
The first film was originally panned by critics who missed the screenwriter Ed Neumeier’s satirical take on fascism, but it has since gone on to draw massive acclaim. It was followed by two live action direct-to-video sequels, both written by Neumeier, before the series went in a new direction in 2012 with Starship Troopers: Invasion. That film was a Japanese-American production that was fully-animated, ignored the events of the two live action sequels, and was not written by Neumeier. The film’s style and action were praised, but it notably lacked the satirical streak of the original. So for the newest film, Neuemeir returned and ended up penning the most politically-relevant satire of the series so far.
Traitor of Mars also brings original stars Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer back into the fold. Van Dien steps back into his familiar role of Johnny Rico easily after nearly a decade (he last played the character in 2008’s Starship Troopers 3: Marauder), though this is a considerably more gruff and grizzled Rico than we’re used to seeing. For Meyer, it’s her first turn as Dizzy Flores since the original movie 20 years ago, and the way the film resurrects her character — who died in the 1997 film — is both clever and disturbing, but will not be spoiled by this review.
The film takes place mostly on Mars, where an older, one-eyed General Johnny Rico — who has been demoted to the planet — begrudgingly commands a group of largely incompetent, Millennialesque young soldiers who don’t know the first thing about killing bugs. The Martian colony is also in the midst of calls for sovereignty from the Federation, which doesn’t sit well with the leadership back on Earth. The Federation deploys most of their fleet to the outer reaches of the galaxy to launch an attack on the bugs, and immediately after doing so a surprise hidden bug onslaught takes over Mars, which now has only Rico and his young recruits (and Dizzy, sort of) to defend it. Once the Federation announces plans to nuke Mars, in attempt to get rid of both the bug colony and the pesky Martians, Rico and his young team have to both defeat the bugs and prevent their planet from being blown up by a traitor within their own government (hence the film’s title), receiving some help from a rogue Carmen Ibanez on Mars and an imprisoned Carl Jenkins on Earth along the way (neither Denise Richards nor Neil Patrick Harris reprise their roles from the original film).
The film, which was written by Neumeier prior to the campaign of Donald Trump, nevertheless has some striking parallels to the political climate created by 45th president, as the movie features a politician whose entire platform is based on what will make her popular on social media — regardless of what damage her policies will actually inflict. I had a chance to speak with Neumeier after watching the film, and he told me, “We were kind of talking about the rise of social media in the world, how politicians might use it or abuse it, the notion of popularity, all of that kind of stuff,” he said. “And [also saying] we should look at our government and say, ‘Are they doing what we think they should be doing, and if not, we need to get our friends from high school together and stop them [laughs].'”
Overall, Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars offers an engaging original story that’s wonderfully animated — the troopers’ Halo-like power suits are especially nifty — while also offering some fun nostalgia and callbacks for fans of the original film. It’s definitely worth a watch, and should go a long way toward renewing interest in the resurgent franchise.
Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars is in theaters for one night only on 8/21, on Digital on 8/22, and on Blu-ray & DVD on 9/19.