Nazis in Space: How Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers Brilliantly Deformed Fascism

When Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers hit cinemas in 1997, reviews were harsh. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times has argued that the Dutch director of Robocop, Total Recall, and Basic Instinct provided a “strictly one-dimensional, pretense-free” space flick, even suggesting that the filmmaker retained the “fascist utopia” of Robert A. Heinlein 1959 on which it was based. Turan wrote: “Soldiers take us to a military future where videocasts encourage young people to ‘join the mobile infantry and save the world.’ Schools teach that ‘violence is supreme power’ and nothing solves problems with the efficacy of ‘bare force.'” The Washington Post described Verhoeven’s tone as “so inconsistent that it is impossible to decide whether he sends the Third Reich or is in love with her.”

Starship Troopers failed to make their money at the box office, and after another Hollywood blockbuster, 2000’s Hollow Man, Verhoeven returned to Europe, his credentials as a blockbuster filmmaker shattered.

Twenty-five years later, it’s hard to see how anyone watching Starship Troopers at the time, let alone film critics with knowledge of the director’s previous work, failed to discover that Verhoeven was doing the parody. The film imagines a future in which the Earth-Terran Confederation is united in a military and fascist hatred of alien “insects,” an alien race that resembles insects in open warfare. Verhoeven cast great works such as Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, and Denise Richards in Beverly Hills 90210 in reference to Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films and their portrayal of a thriving, square-jawed Aryan youth. The film even features regular trailers, disguised as news reports of humanity’s latest landslide victories. At one point, Neil Patrick Harris wore a uniform so reminiscent of an SS officer that he was known on set as “Doogie Himmler” whenever he wore it.

There’s never a moment, even when bugs succeed in destroying Buenos Aires, when teenage infantryman Johnny Rico and his brave soldiers don’t believe they’ll wipe out the entire alien race and march victoriously through the universe in some terrifying space opera. The victory of the will. So much so that it is the mistakes that the audience regrets, as Verhoeven undoubtedly intended.

“It’s a very right-wing book,” the director told Empire magazine. And with the movie, we tried, and I think we succeeded at least partially, to comment on that at the same time. It would be ‘eat your cake and get it.’ All the way we were fighting with fascism, extreme militarism. All the way I wanted the audience to ask, ‘Would you Are these people crazy?”

Critics may have been too distracted by the fiasco of Verhoeven’s 1995 film, Showgirls, to realize that the director was back in shape. Soldiers share an intense fondness for nudity with its predecessor, though the Dutchman not only shows male and female foot soldiers sharing showers to impress the audience. He also wants to make it clear that they are so obsessed with the righteous destruction of the treacherous insect enemy that they look at each other’s naughty parts.

Dennis Richards in Starship Troopers. Photo: Entertainment / Science Images

These days, Starship Troopers easily sit alongside Verhoeven’s other cult sci-fi classics, Robocop and Total Recall, in a fascinating complex of satirical futuristic absurdity. Yes, these films are violent, bloody, exaggerated and often act reckless, but the director is very much involved in the joke. Only an outsider like Verhoeven could have made films that openly criticized the heartbreaking excesses of American action cinema in the ’80s and ’90s, yet somehow they did a better job than Hollywood itself in presenting the era’s explosive brand.

When Hollywood Suits attempted to reverse the flow by putting remakes of Robocop and Total Recall in movie theaters decades later, the result was a pair of watered-down, bland renovations that appeared devoid of any seasoning or meaning, as if someone decided to make a meatless cheeseburger. or dairy products or flavors. There are also reports of a planned remake of the Starship Troopers, with at least one iteration suggesting a return to the Heinlein source novel. As Twitter noted at the time: “The non-sarcastic reboot of the Starship is the worst damned idea I’ve ever heard.”

He even thinks a lot of 1997 critics really thought that was the movie they were watching. If the only good bug is a dead bug, as the Starship Troopers want us to, then perhaps the only bad movies are the ones that don’t end up being good with the advantage of perspective and a quarter century of hindsight.

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