Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars

Separatist sentiment runs high among those space colonists. This time it is the Martians agitating for a Marexit from the Federation. Unlike the hardy libertarians in Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress, these colonists are more like agrarian pacifists, who really don’t see what humanity’s war for survival against the bugs has to do with them. However, they will learn the hard way when a suspiciously sudden bug infestation overwhelms the planet in Shinji Aramaki and Masaru Matsumoto’s animated Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars (trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

Did you know there were four sequels to Starship Troopers, two of them animated? Among B-movie connoisseurs, they are considered the gold standard of direct-to-DVD sequels. However, you can’t technically call Traitor of Mars direct-to-DVD, because it had a special Fathom Events theatrical screening. It is also something of a reunion for fans, because it was written and executive produced by Ed Neumeier, who wrote the screenplay for the first Verhoeven movie and features the voices of original cast-members Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer (yes, her character has been dead since the first film, but that doesn’t mean she can’t still play a role). Seriously, you have to wonder how Denise Richards managed to be too busy to phone in a few lines for Fleet Captain Carmen Ibanez, but whatever.

As usual, “Mobilized Infantry does the dying, Fleet just does the flying.” Col. Johnny Rico is an officer now, but he is still all infantry grunt. Evidently, he had to make a hard choice in the previous film that saved humanity, but didn’t do his career any favors. As a result, he has been posted to the sleepy backwater of Mars to try to whip a misfit platoon of recruits into fighting shape. Of course, he is the last person Sky Marshal Amy Snapp would want on Mars, if she had foreknowledge of an alien attack, but let it proceed unimpeded to punish the Martians for their uppity behavior, which is about the size of things.

Of course, she will need a scape goat—a traitor of mars (or should that be “to mars?”). Carl Jenkins, her rival and Rico’s former high school classmate would foot the bill nicely, but he manages to get warnings to Rico and Ibanez before Snapp’s storm troopers grab him.

When it comes to military science fiction and mecha, Aramaki is the go-to animator. He has been entrusted with the Appleseed, Halo, and Harlock franchises, as well as the previous Starship Troopers animated sequel. He does spaceships and battle armor really well. It is also kind of neat to see the main characters noticeably age, albeit mostly rather gracefully. Basically, Rico now looks like Nick Fury on steroids and an all protein diet.

There is plenty of action and a number of call-backs and shout-outs to the original film. Yet, even though Neumeier doesn’t leave anyone in the lurch, his narrative ends somewhat ambiguously, without the kind of red meat payoff fans will want. It kind of feels like Phantom Menace, in that a lot happens, but our characters mostly end up back where they started, except for the Martians, who basically get done dirty.

Still, Rico and Jenkins continue to hold up as compelling characters, while Aramaki, Matsumoto, and their team create some cool science fiction visuals. Needless to say, it never remotely approaches the artistry of Loving Vincent, but it’s fun. Recommended for fans of Aramaki and the franchise, Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars is now available on DVD.