When I was a wee lad, we had this fantastic little pharmacy/news agent down the street from us that, like many pre-CVS/Walgreen’s druggists, also featured a soda fountain that served up the finest Lime Rickey’s in town. I loved to hang out there, downing sugary beverages and flipping through magazines and spinner racks of comics while my mother waited in line to pick up prescriptions (which, in those days, took an interminable amount of time) for whichever of her six kids were sick at the time. In the hours upon hours that I spent in that place over the course of my youth, I was exposed to a lot of stuff I probably shouldn’t have been exposed to at that age, including a lot of science fiction, which, thanks to Star Wars, was huge at the time. Always eager to fill my sci-fi jones, I remember finding myself drawn to a book whose cover featured an eye-catching painting of what appeared to be robots falling from the sky with massive guns. The book was Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and, with a little prodding, I was able to convince my mother to buy it for me.
Turns out those little fellas on the cover weren’t robots at all, but, rather, teenage soldiers in kick ass power armor sent off to wage war against an alien insect menace. I’ll be honest; a LOT of the book went over my head back then. Heinlein crammed a lot of sociopolitical commentary in there; more than my eleven year old mind was capable of discerning, but, thankfully, he also crammed buttloads of action in there as well. I fell in love with not only the book, but the universe in which the book was set. I mean, sure; the threat of extinction at the hands (claws? Pincers?) of the bugs wasn’t very alluring, but, man oh man, what I could do with a set of that power armor!
Many, many years later, Paul Verhoeven would make his film adaptation of Starship Troopers, and, while I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was missing the very thing that drew me to Heinlein’s book in the first place; the power armor! It wouldn’t be until the third film in the franchise – the direct-to-video cheapie, Starship Trooper: Marauder – that the power armor would make its debut. Sadly, the suits only appeared for a few minutes toward the end of the film, and the budgetary restraints made their big reveal somewhat disappointing.
Just as it looked like that would be closest we’d get to Heinlein’s man-in-a-can creation, Starship Troopers: Invasion was announced. This all-CGI feature length sequel not only promised power armor; it promised big action on a scale that not even Verhoeven’s big-budget film couldn’t achieve. From the first teaser, which featured an almost word-for-word recitation of the opening lines of Heinlein’s novel, I knew this film had a lot of promise, and, now, having seen it in all of its glory, I can say that Starship Troopers: Invasion lives up to said promise, and then some!
Invasion is something of an indirect sequel to Verhoeven’s film, introducing us to a new group of grunts tasked with evacuating a space station besieged by bugs. While the rescue mission is in full swing, Lt. Carl Jenkins (Justin Doran) commandeers the John Warden – the ship captained by Lt. Carmen Ibanez (Luci Christianson). Carmen is informed that Carl’s mission is top secret and is ordered not to pursue the John Warden, but, soon thereafter, the ship and Carmen’s crew vanish without a trace. When it later resurfaces, the John Warden is under the command of a powerful Bug Queen, and on a collision course with the Earth. Now, Carmen and an elite squad of Troopers must find a way to board the John Warden and take back control before the bug menace brings the war home.
I found Starship Troopers: Invasion to be an absolute blast. While the CGI isn’t exactly cutting edge stuff (picture a really well done video game cut scene), its leaps and bounds better than that of the short-lived-yet-much-beloved Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. Yeah, mouths and expressions don’t really match up with what the characters are saying, and, sure, Carmen walks like she’s wearing a dirty diaper, but these limitations are more than made up for by intense action, a surprisingly engrossing and intelligent storyline, and a sense of scale that would be impossible to achieve otherwise. It’s also a decidedly adult piece of animation, with abundant curse words, extreme violence, and even a fair amount of sex and nudity. The bottom line is that Starship Troopers: Invasion is easily the best sequel in the franchise. It manages to stay true to the source material while still maintaining series’ canon (for better or worse), and...oh yeah...I almost forgot. POWER ARMOR!
Invasion’s 1.85:1 1080p transfer looks about as good as one would expect a CGI film to look, with crisp, defined lines, an impressive sense of depth and dimension, and exceptional detail. There's some grain, here, but it looks to be of the intentional variety, to lend the movie a filmic aesthete. The odd thing is that, while surfaces and materials feature abundant detail, faces are somewhat smooth and flat, which has more to do with the film’s anime-inspired character visages than the transfer. The world of Starship Troopers is, by necessity, very Spartan and drab, with lots of gunmetal gray and muted camouflage, but there are some especially vibrant, eye-popping moments, most notably toward the end of the film, when we venture into the “lair” of the Queen Bug, herself! The accompanying 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio is very effective, with deep, gut-rumbling bass, crisp highs, and smartly implemented directional cues that make one feel as though they’re surrounded by the clackety-clack of bug pincers or fully immersed in a firefight.
Sony heaps on the extras, with a very comprehensive feature-length making-of (HD) that can be watched all at once or broken down into eleven easily digestible bits. Also included is a feature-length commentary track with director Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed: Ex Machina) and Sony international VP, Tony Ishizuka (in Japanese w/ English Subtitles). Also included are deleted scenes, a “gag reel”, a conceptual art gallery, and trailers for other Sony releases.