Movie Review: Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars

Starship Troopers (ST) was one of the most influential movies of my development. I was 6 when I saw it in 1998 and it has stayed with me ever since. Later I read the book and became the man I am today. Both have merits that warrant consideration, but the film adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic has left the biggest impression. And on it’s 20th anniversary we get another sequel. Was Traitor of Mars a worthy successor or does it belong among the other follow-ups?

Following the events of Invasion Rico, voiced by Casper Van Dien, is sent to a station orbiting Mars to train a group of rookies. When a Bug infestation emerges on the planet’s surface, Rico is forced to put his leadership and unskilled Troopers to the test.

From the outset Traitor is not that great. The stilted voice acting is in service to a loose series of events connected by a very thin thread. There is a clear story, but along the way there are scenes and dialog that do not serve a purpose, beyond padding out the runtime. There are no interesting story moments or exciting action sequences worth remembering. It all boiled down to Bugs getting shot or blown up.

Those issues would mean the death of any other film without the element of satire. Ed Neumeier from the first movie returned to write the screenplay and peppered the signature ST propaganda throughout. There are FedNet segments like a show called “Who Do We Blame This Time?” and the narrator wondering if a certain invasion is going to be another disaster like Klendathu. The main antagonist, Sky Marshall Snapp, treats her job like a popularity contest where she contemplates blowing up a planet to increase her approval ratings.

Right off the bat the film is not serious, hence the voice acting and lack of a solid plot. It is more style over substance, the action and violence taking center stage. At the end of the day, Bugs getting shot and Troopers ripped apart is still awesome. Van Dien certainly knew what was going on, doing his best impression of George C. Scott’s Patton while looking like Guts from Berserk (seriously, he is Guts).

While there is satire, there is no juxtaposition to sell what it all means. The first ST was set up like a fascist propaganda movie with beautiful characters brainwashed into joining the military. They are happy to go to war with no regard for their lives before they are butchered in the first battle. The film juxtaposed the idealism and patriotism of the characters with mass murder to illustrate the horrors of fascism. It takes the youngest and most fanatical of the population to throw them at a war that will not end for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

Traitor is not trying to make a point. The humorous FedNet segments and dialog do not serve a purpose other than giving you something to laugh at. For the most part, it is about Troopers killing Bugs and some moé waifu villain trying to be the best girl. Perhaps something was lost in translation, given the movie is directed by Shinji Aramaki and Masaru Matsumoto from Appleseed and Harlock. Neumeier may have written the screenplay, but more often than not scripts undergo changes in development. Unless the end result was his vision, I would love to see what Neumeier was trying to achieve.

Traitor of Mars is not a bad sequel to Starship Troopers, but I find it difficult to recommend. It lacks real heart and finesse to get you invested, superficial issues aside. The only people who would get anything out of it are fans like myself. To that end, I recommend the first movie and the book if you have seen or read either. If you really want to watch Traitor, check out Invasion first to get a frame of reference. I also recommend the Roughnecks TV series if you can tolerate the janky animation.

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