Should this franchise exist?
Starship Troopers debuted in 1997, based on the science fiction novel of the same name by Robert A. Heinlein. The Paul Verhoeven-directed film stars Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, and Neil Patrick Harris and follows fresh Mobile Infantry recruit Johnny Rico (Van Dien) as he progresses throughout the military outfit. Rico advances from recruit to officer as the Infantry battles bug creatures called Arachnids. Despite its largely negative critical reception, Starship Troopers received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects. The film has since witnessed a well-deserved revisionist history and is now recognized for its humor and originality. Further, it garnered a cult following and spawned a string of sequels. 2017’s Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars arrives as the second animated film in the series, and a follow-up to 2012’s Starship Troopers: Invasion.
Demoted to colonel after the Invasion, Johnny Rico has been reassigned to a Martian satellite. There, Rico assumes the responsibility of training a group of troopers which he dubs “The Lost Patrol.” That’s mostly because they’re the worst recruits Rico has yet seen. Even on the most basic of simulation training, they’re consistently ripped to shreds. “How come I always get ripped in half?” Dutch (Chris Gibson) wonders aloud after an ill-fated mission training. Nowhere near battle ready, Lost Patrol gets plunged into war well before they’re prepared when a level 4 (read: not good) bug outbreak on the surface of Mars necessitates their assistance.
Meanwhile, Sky Marshal Amy Snapp (Emily Neves) sets a genius albeit maniacal plan into action. Her scheme will result in the destruction of Mars to fulfill her self-centered political agenda. It’s up to Rico and the Lost Patrol to save Mars and prove the Mobile Infantry’s prowess.
Edward Neumeier, who wrote the screenplay for the original Starship Troopers, returns to the series to author the script of Traitor of Mars. Plus, franchise stars Van Dien and Dina Meyer reprise their roles as Johnny Rico and Dizzy Flores respectively. There’s a plausible and enjoyable explanation for Dizzy’s appearance on the film, which lends cohesion and probes Rico’s character.
The animation is largely on point. Moments showing the landscape and Arachnids shine with an unrivaled realism. It’s movies like Traitor of Mars and Resident Evil: Vendetta which truly creates adult-oriented creations with 3D CGI. But character design simply hasn’t been mastered. There’s still an unrealistic element which doesn’t plague environments and creatures. Nevertheless, it’s convincing and cinematic, to the point where you may forget that you’re watching an animated flick.
Where Traitor of Mars succeeds is in capturing the action inherent to the series. There’s rampant bug killing. Traitor of Mars takes “Kill ’em all!” to a whole new level. Additionally, the relationships remain strong with familiar characters in Rico, Flores, Carl Jenkins (Justin Doran), and Carmen Ibanez (Luci Christian). Notably, Doran and Christian fill in as the original talent don’t appear for the voice acting in Traitor.
But what’s missing is the humor so prevalent in the 1997 live-action film. That’s not to say it’s completely lacking comedic moments. One of my favorites comes from Camacho (Juliet Simmons), the sole female trooper in the Lost Patrol when she overloads a terraforming tower with the goal of creating a massive storm and quips “Excuse me while I rip the sky.” A few running jokes and one-liners permeate the script. However, there’s nothing near the nuanced humor of the original movie.
Moreover, the plot is pretty predictable. Still, it’s a fun movie which benefits from exquisite animation, some of the best I’ve seen to date. Van Dien and Meyer reprising their roles, and a veteran scriptwriter in Neumeier, further make Traitor of Mars an engaging, though largely superficial, adventure.