Friday, November 11, 2011

STARSHIP TROOPERS 2 (2004); STARSHIP TROOPERS 3 (2008)


















PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *(1) poor, (2) good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *(1) drama, (2)irony*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


Though the Campbellian function remains the same in these two sequels to the 1997 original, the underlying myth-narratives change quite a bit from film to film.

In my review of STARSHIP TROOPERS. I categorized it as an irony because:
In an irony, even if the main characters seem to triumph in the end, there's always a subtle downside to their apparent victory.
TROOPERS was consistent throughout in terms of ironizing the struggle of young hot-looking human beings against squirmy, squishy bugs. TROOPERS 2 keeps the original's writer Ed Neumeier but takes on as director Phil Tippett, who executed visual effects on the first film as well as many other FX-films going back to STAR WARS.  As Tippett and Neumeier comment on the DVD track, TROOPERS 2, being far less well-funded than the original, pursued the course of many low-budget direct-to-video efforts: it follows the narrative of the horror film.

I've commented on my other blog that works in the horror genre most often imitate the Fryean mythos of the drama.  In that mythos, tragedy and defeat are strongly possible-- or at least more possible than they are in most adventure and comedy mythoi-- though not inevitable.  Though the characters of TROOPERS 2 are not much more well-rounded than those of Verhoeven's original, they are a trifle more sympathetic by virtue of the type of horror narrative used here-- which Neumeier calls "the haunted castle."

There's only a hint of the heavy FX-action toward the beginning of the film.  Then the story takes on the aspect of what television shows call a "bottle episode," in which all the action takes place on one principal set.  A detachment of Earth soldiers, cut off from air support on a bug-infested planet, takes refuge in an abandoned outpost.  There they find one man left behind in the brig: Captain Dax (Richard Burgi), arrested for having killed his superior officer.  With Dax's help, the co-ed infantry repulses another bug attack, and then tries to settle in until help can arrive.  However, they take in a few other soldiers that apparently survived encounters with the enemy, only to learn that they aren't what they seem.  Think ALIEN meets "wolf in sheep's clothing."

The assorted conflicts and tensions within the pressure-cooker environment are fairly pedestrian.  By default Dax emerges as the strongest protagonist, as heroine Pvt. Sahara (Colleen Porch) learns that he no longer considers himself a "hero of the federation" (the film's subtitle) because he's realized what a fucked-up mess the ruling Earth-government is.  Dax makes explicit all the anti-fascist criticisms that the 1997 film left implicit, thus dispersing the ironic impact. Neumeier's script still include a few ironic touches, but Dax's superior point-of-view allows for much more dramatic identification-- though to be sure, the captain still gives up his life fighting alien bugs.  His legacy at the film's end is that Sahara is allowed to see the federation's duplicity; a feat impossible for Johnny Rico, viewpoint character for the Verhoeven work.  TROOPERS 2 is watchable but nothing special.

TROOPERS 3, however, is something of a return to form.  In the DVD commentary for the first sequel, Neumeier references John Ford's 1934 film THE LOST PATROL, which concerned a group of British soldiers lost in the Mesopotamian desert during WWI, menaced by Arab enemies and an "enemy within," a soldier who becomes lost in religious fanaticism.  Neumeier, wearing both writer and director hats this time, again isolates a detachment of soldiers from air support on a bug-world, but this time the heroes spend most of their time in the desert, and the "religious fanatic" is Marshal Anoke (Stephen Hogan), a prominent officer in Earth's Psychic Corps.  Neumeier develops a plotline seen at the end of the first film, in which Earth-forces captured a "brain bug" from the enemy forces.  It turns out that this bug is a plant, who essentially brainwashes Anoke to believe that God is really an even bigger "brain bug" on the very world where Anoke and the others become stranded.  (I really don't think I'm giving anything away here; Anoke's peculiar attitude and actions mark him as some sort of changeling-type early on.)

Though again the plotline is nothing unique, Neumeier returns the franchise to a more ironic stance.  For the first time there's a significant portrait of organized religion on the TROOPERS version of Earth.  But though it's briefly seen as a possible threat to the ruling powers, Neumeier quickly ironizes the social function of faith as much as that of military power, and by film's end the military has co-opted the power of religious imagery for their fascist agenda.  Perhaps the most inspired example of Neumeier's many satirical moments in the film is his deft rewriting of a line from the Verhoeven film, when the slogan "It's a good day to die"  is altered to "It's a good day to BUY."  In this line Neumeier captures the manipulativeness of the Iraq War years, during which President George W. Bush exhorted U.S. citizens to continue buying to stimulate the country's economy, and thus to indirectly support the continued military efforts in Iraq.

Incidentally, Johnny Rico, again essayed by Casper Van Dien, returns to this TROOPERS franchise here, but he's essentially unchanged and is used largely as "the cavalry" that comes to rescue the few humans that survive Anoke's betrayal, including former Vulcan Jolene Blalock.  And though it took three films to do so, the third in this franchise finally does adapt the one aspect of the Heinlein book that fans griped most about missing from the first adaptation-- the powered "mobile suits."  Given the budget of TROOPERS 3, the suits aren't exactly prepossessing, but I liked seeing them anyway.  But the real star of TROOPERS 3 is the return to irony, in which humans and bugs alike are seen as no damn good whatsoever.






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