Adapted from Robert A. Heinlein’s humans vs bugs novel, Starship Troopers is set in a techno fascist future where the director of Showgirls is still allowed to make movies.
Director Paul Verhoeven never read the book: “I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring,” he said. “It is really quite a bad book.” His adaptation succeeds by being quite a bad film. The idea of making a Top Gun–style parody that satirises the right-wing American ideal looks good on paper; most of the lead actors are from Beverly Hills, 90210, inspired by the Aryan casting of Nazi propaganda films. But what you end up with is a sarcastic action movie populated by very bad actors.
After a first half that resembles 90210 in space, the second entirely comprises people shooting bugs. The Oscar-nominated special effects hold up brilliantly, but the deliberately synthetic-looking film is nasty to watch on every level. In Aliens, James Cameron criticised the military–industrial complex while imbuing his characters with humanity; Verhoeven straight-up hates these characters, and unlike RoboCop there aren’t really any jokes to freshen up the stench of cynicism.
The problem with satirising Top Gun is the same as trying to parody Donald Trump; it’s already so extreme that the closest you can get is imitation. By exaggerating those movie tropes without subverting them, you’re basically just making Top Gun. With bugs. And Neil Patrick Harris. Suit up? Try shut up.