It can be said that author Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel, 'Starship Troopers,' may have influenced such video games as the immensely successful 'Halo' series and, to a lesser extent, the popular 'Gears of War' franchise. So, it seems fitting that 'Starship Troopers: Invasion,' the 2012 animated film, and continuation of Paul Verhoeven's 1997 adaptation of the Heinlein novel, would come full circle and closely mimic the storytelling conventions of video games – albeit those that have successfully eluded critical praise.
On one hand, 'Starship Troopers: Invasion' is actually the more faithful adaptation of Heinlein's work, choosing to include the powered armor exoskeletons worn by the Mobile Infantry that was a major part of the book. Ironically, this addition from half a century ago is also what makes the film most closely resemble the video games mentioned above – especially 'Halo.' Fans of the novel will likely remember Verhoeven eschewed the notion of powered armor to better advance his film's exploration of fascism and militarism; themes also explored in the novel. Like Verhoeven's work, 'Starship Troopers: Invasion' is also chock full of gory, blood-spattery violence and graphic nudity, but it does so without any of the original film's tongue-in-cheek humor and mockery of the military industrial complex. If anything, 'Invasion' is the antithesis of Verhoeven's film – foregoing the derisive tone for something far more solemn and earnest.
This is readily apparent as the film's main protagonist goes by the call sign Hero, while others have been labeled Holy Man, Ratzass, Ice Blonde, Shock Jock, Bugspray and Trig. Continuing with the poorly made video game comparison, each character is fitted into an easily identifiable stock role, which comes in the usual assortment of sniper, Asian martial artist, religious guy, oversexed meathead, and oversexed blonde. The script exerts the minimum amount of effort in fleshing the characters out, partially because they're all expendable, and partially because the inclusion of familiar characters like Carmen Ibanez, Johnny Rico, and Carl Jenkins eventually takes over the film's narrative.
And that narrative is mercifully straightforward and linear, though it does take some time to get going. After a mission to destroy the bug-infested Fort Casey ends up with Henry "Hero" Varro (voice of David Wald) placed under arrest by the still-creepy and now head of Paranormal Warfare, Carl Jenkins (voice of Justin Doran), Hero's team (and, eventually, Hero, too) are off to find Jenkins after he mysteriously disappears along with a powerful warship named the John A. Warden. As it turns out, Jenkins' mission was to test a top-secret procedure that would allow humans to turn the tide of war against the bugs. The trouble is, in doing so, Jenkins inadvertently sets the John A. Warden, and its nasty cargo, on a collision course with Earth.
What follows is a series of run and gun situations in which the supposedly highly trained troopers stand in place and shoot thousands of bullets at hordes of marauding bugs. Not only does this technique end up thinning their already low numbers with gruesome efficiency, but it also calls into question why they have been outfitted with powered armor in the first place. Few times do we see the trooper do anything extraordinary with the armor, and when push comes to shove, the stereotypical martial arts guy decides he'll be better off engaging the bugs with high kicks rather than using the armor to some benefit like, say, escaping. Take a second to imagine that Tony Stark built the Iron Man armor solely to attend board meetings, and you'll have a good idea of how effectively the troopers utilize the weapons at their disposal.
In terms of the film's animation, characters are all blandly attractive in the most superficial way possible. The animation's inadequate depiction of human expressiveness and physicality lessens the film's emotional impact to the point that watching as a character is dismembered by one of the thousands of bugs seen in the film is met with no more response than if the screen were depicting a door closing. There have been complaints about Robert Zemeckis' mo-cap animated features like 'The Polar Express' and 'Beowulf' rendering the characters soulless and having a disturbing, uncanny valley quality to them. In comparison, the human-like representations depicted in 'Starship Troopers: Invasion' make the dead-eyed characters of Zemeckis' animated efforts seem like subtle works of art, filled to the brim with the rich tapestry that is the human condition.
Additional problems arise with the film's dialogue track, as synchronization with characters' lips is spotty, at best. This most likely has to do with the film being intended to have multiple international languages to choose from, so on one hand it's forgivable, but distracting nonetheless.
What was surely intended to be an intense animated movie, enhanced with state-of-the-art CGI, instead turns into a lackluster and repetitive action film that is light on the character development so it can keep its finger on the proverbial trigger. Though certain sequences have been animated spectacularly, the proposed benefit of the format winds up making one scene so dissimilar from the next that the end result is nothing short of a jumbled, uninspired mess.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 codec presents a film that, by any stretch of the imagination should be gorgeous to look at, with a kind of dull, gray texturing over the image that is disappointing to say the least. The high def transfer is decent; fine detail is present and clarity is not an issue – but considering the level of control an animator should have, there's a lack of pizzazz in the presentation that renders the picture somewhat flat.
Colors here are mostly of the military drab variety; namely, olive green, gray and a splash of steel blue, but still, none of them burst off the screen. Even skin tones are rendered with a sickly pallor, like the troopers had spent time being grown in a vat of chemicals before their tour of duty. It's almost as if there is a layer of noise between the image and the viewer's television screen, and, in fact, during the initial assault on Fort Casey, there is a clear attempt to apply a lens flare effect over the commotion that puts J.J. Abrams' signature style to shame. Unlike Abrams' films, though, the result is a dim image that registers low contrast and produces dull colors.
The washed out look is a distraction throughout the film, and dispels the notion that CGI animated films are always transferred perfectly to Blu-ray.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track dutifully brings the viewer right into the many, many gun battles without being overly loud or sounding out of balance. Though not a completely immersive experience, the sound does its best work when it's being overworked. Automatic gunfire and the omnipresent screeches of the bugs extend across all channels with efficiency that helps augment the sense of danger and emergency for the various troopers.
Imaging also works well during quieter scenes where troopers' magnetic boots clank down hard on the metallic surface of the John A. Warden's various lengthy hallways and corridors. Dialogue – despite being out of synch – comes through with clarity that is never overshadowed or diluted by the film's sound effects.
LFE is the big winner on 'Starship Troopers: Invasion,' as one would likely expect. Explosions, gunfire and the impressive blast of a .50 caliber sniper rifle all come forth with remarkable depth that heightens the militaristic atmosphere of the film. Additionally, the music is presented across the front channels with clarity that inserts itself nicely into the action without being a distraction. All in all, this is a decent sound transfer that won't push your system to the limits, but certainly gets the job done.
According to the film's director, Shinji Aramaki, the 'Starship Troopers' franchise is quite large in Japan – certainly larger than any perceived appreciation for the film and its sequels here in the United States. Perhaps that's where Aramaki and screenwriter Flint Dille were aiming when they cooked up this one-off storyline, and why it so closely resembles the kind of tale one might expect to see in a Capcom video game (one can't help but see the resemblance Carl Jenkins bears to any number of villains from the 'Resident Evil' series). Juvenile and frequently tedious, 'Starship Troopers: Invasion' will probably attract some attention from younger audiences seeking an ultra-violent fix and a peek at some animated naughty bits. Sadly, for a film boasting state of the art animation, the Blu-ray is underwhelming in terms of picture while the sound is merely adequate. Unless you're a die-hard 'Starship Troopers' lover, just go ahead and skip this one.