By Chaz Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Starship Troopers: Invasion on Blogcritics.
The bugs are back and not only are they more pissed off than ever, they’re smarter too. Starship Troopers: Invasion plunges us back into the world first envisioned, cinematically speaking, by Paul Verhoeven in 1997. Two live-action sequels followed, but now director Shinji Aramaki takes the franchise into an entirely computer-animated realm. Invasion boasts some incredible visuals, with plenty of bug-blasting action, fully-realized power suits, and a variety of cool weaponry. The story brings back Johnny Rico, Carmen Ibanez, and Carl Jenkins from the first film, creating a fan-pleasing sense of continuity (though none of the original actors return for the voice acting and the characters look completely different).
Despite its direct connections to Verhoeven’s original (with that film’s screenwriter Ed Neumeier and star Casper Van Dien on board as executive producers), Invasion is a meat-and-potatoes action film that eschews any satirical subtext. Knowing that in advance may help fans of Verhoeven’s multi-layered approach to simply kick back and enjoy this one as the straight-forward adventure that it is. After a rescue mission at Federation outpost Fort Casey, the crew of the starship Alesia find themselves with new, mysterious orders. Another ship, the John A. Warden, was also docked at Fort Casey. After it abruptly left under the command of Minister of Paranormal Warfare Carl Jenkins (voiced by Justin Doran), it powered down and has gone completely dark. It’s up to the troopers aboard the Alesia, under the leadership of “Hero” Varro, to track the Warden, board her, and find out what happened.
These orders come from none other than General Johnny Rico (voiced by David Matranga), who assumes a supporting role throughout, staying out of the action until late in the movie. The Warden is Captain Carmen Ibanez’s (voiced by Luci Christian) ship, so she has a vested interest in what happened to it under Jenkins’ command. She and the crew of the Alesia arrive to find a spookily abandoned ghost ship, with all power turned off and dismembered bodies floating around due to the lack of artificial gravity. From there we are treated to an exciting showdown, as bugs begin to emerge from the dark crevices of the ship. Some surprising plots twists, mostly involving the reappearance of the slightly crazed Jenkins, enliven the proceedings even more. The Alesia’s crew isn’t an especially well-developed set of characters, but Varro (voiced by David Wald) is a suitably Rico-esque leader. A few of the other characters, especially sniper Trig (voiced by Emily Neves), manage to register above stereotype level.
The real star of Invasion is what director Aramaki, producer Joseph Chou, and the team at Sola Digital Arts have brought the visual design. Aside from the largely non-expressive human character animation, the visuals are extremely cool. In addition to the standard combat bugs from the first film, we are introduced to plasma-shooting bugs as well as the queen bug. The new bugs, besides providing additional visual pizazz, allow us to see a hierarchy and overall level of intelligence previously unseen. There’s plenty of blood, gore, and profanity (as well as some nudity) that more than earns Starship Troopers: Invasion its R-rating. Regardless of what you thought about the live-action sequels, this one stands entirely on its own. Again, the satirical humor is gone, but Invasion is a satisfying reimagining of the Starship Troopers environment that may well spawn additional computer-animated entries.
Framed at 1.78:1, the 1080p transfer is very strong. If the high definition clarity enhances the sometimes stiff, herky-jerky character animation a little too much, that’s a result of the film’s modest budget, not a fault in the transfer. Details and textures of the hardware, especially the armor, are consistently realistic. A number of thoughtful details strengthen this visual presentation, including effects such as film-like grain applied to certain shots. The result is an inventive and varied visual experience that helps balance out the videogame-like look of the characters.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack delivers plenty of punch. That’s a good thing, considering all the action in Invasion. Bug squeals and screeches leap out from all channels. Gunfire and deep explosions keep the LFE channel regularly engaged. The non-action scenes are a little thin overall, but the score helps fills out the lack of ambiance in the quieter scenes. Dialogue never presents any issues. Details such as the clinking of bullet casings hitting metal floors stand out, giving the action scenes extra depth and realism.
A generous amount of supplemental features have been assembled for this release. Best of all is an 11-part “making of” documentary. While you can watch each segment one at a time, there’s also a convenient “play all” option. Together the piece runs for an impressive one hour and 20 minutes. All aspects of the production are covered, featuring interviews with director Shinji Aramaki, producer Joseph Chou, co-executive producers Casper Van Dien and Ed Neumeier, and more. It’s unlikely anyone will come away from this expansive documentary unsatisfied, but the commentary track (in Japanese with English subtitles) with Shinji and Sony executive Tony Ishizuka provides even more in-depth information. There’s also a gag reel, a couple deleted scenes, and a conceptual art gallery (a Blu-ray exclusive).
Starship Troopers: Invasion is a lean and mean sci-fi action movie that stands as the best film in this franchise since Paul Verhoeven’s original. The move to computer animation allows for far better visuals than the other direct-to-video sequels. With solid audio/visual presentation and a great, feature-length “making of,” Invasion is easy to recommend.