Consider the plight of square-jawed Casper Van Dien – his career decline meant he had to return to the franchise which launched him, having escaped the gravitational pull of the first direct-to-DVD el cheapo sequel but being unable to resist Part 3. Previously, this happened to William Katt (House and House IV: The Repossession) and Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead and Pumpkinhead Ashes to Ashes). Written and directed by Edward Neumeier, who scripted Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s novel, this suffers from several other typical demerits – shoddy CGI (poorer even than in Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation), an odd paroxysm of religiosity which isn’t completely swallowed by undoubted satirical intent, and inbuilt tensions between the demands of standard action nonsense and the series’ cartoonish ambitions. The original film was deliberately cast with plasticky people – though, as yet, Denise Richards, Jake Busey and Neil Patrick Harris haven’t slid enough to sign up for returns to the series – who made a point about the fascist future by expressing a limited emotional range as if it were the only option afforded by their society; down the line, with Jolene Blalock, Boris Kodjoe, Marnette Patterson, Stephen Hogan and Stelio Savante in the cast, it’s impossible to tell whether they’re deliberately being wooden or just plain can’t act (while Amanda Donohoe is a hoot as a scheming admiral).
Again, we kick off with news reports which infodump story-so-far stuff about the war between humanity and the bugs of Klendathu (a great alien planet name!) and show how a society built around military service has lead to crassness like televised public mass hangings of pacifists, heroic senior officers who are also MOR power ballad superstars (Sky Marshal Omar Anoke’s big hit is ‘It’s a Good Day to Die’) and smartly-tailored barely-altered-from-Nazi uniforms more in line with Norman Spinrad’s Heinlein parody The Iron Dream (in which Hitler became a science fiction writer) than Heinlein’s actually neo-fascist (if not uncomplicated) ideology. Then, there’s a scrappy bug-fight on a far-off planet, where Johnny Rico (Van Dien) is now c.o. – though he gets relieved of command by old friend General Dix Hauser (Kodjoe) for intervening to prevent the execution of a fighting peacenik farmer during a bar-fight and then blamed for the loss of the colony to the bugs. Johnny survives his execution unflustered and is co-opted to a secret military program which involves the robot-armour business from Heinlein’s novel originally dropped because it had been pre-empted somewhat by Aliens. By now, these things are a bit too familiar from any number of films and anime about armoured battlesuits, so the hasty climax in which they are deployed against the insects isn’t much of a spectacle. The soap opera love triangle doesn’t help either.
Meanwhile, on a desert world, Sky Marshal Anoke (Hogan) and Rico’s old girlfriend Captain Lola Beck (Blalock) yomp across bug-infested wastes, mostly arguing about religion – which has been suppressed (as inherently pacifist) by this society, though Anoke is a covert deist and encourages flight attendant Holly (Patterson) in her own Christian beliefs. The scene where Holly makes Lola recite the Lord’s Prayer as things look bad, only for a halo to appear around her head as deliverance comes, is campy, but seems to have a nugget of real, embarrassing feeling – even though the stars turn out to be Rico and his ‘marauder’ troopers showing up to kick big bug butt. The God Anoke believes in is ‘Behemocoitl’ (another great name), God of the enemy – and he’s been mind-warped by the brain bug captured back in the first film, which is ‘negotiating’ a peace that means assimilation (funniest line goes to the convinced Christian who gasps, when she realises what Anoke worships, ‘it’s the wrong God!’). In the happy ending, the war goes on – but the news channel officially declares ‘Across the Federation, Federation experts agree that: A: God exists, B: He’s on our side, C: He wants us to win.’ And Amanda Donohoe exchanges a black SS-look uniform for something like a nun’s habit. Neumeier has a knack for making up Heinleinian character names – Bull Brittles, Enolo Phid, Slug Skinner, etc.