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Face-Off: RoboCop vs. Starship Troopers

Last week we heard that screenwriters have been hired to pen a remake of Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film STARSHIP TROOPERS, and when that news is combined with the fact that a new Verhoeven film, the rape revenge thriller ELLE, is coming out this Friday, this seemed like the perfect week to have a STARSHIP TROOPERS Face-Off. But what movie to pair it with? How about Verhoeven's 1987 film ROBOCOP? They're both sci-fi action movies with a humorous satirical edge, and Edward Neumeier worked on the screenplays for both of them. So let's put these two head-to-head and see which Verhoeven/Neumeier collaboration comes out on top.
STORY
In the near future, the corporation Omni Consumer Products has taken control of the police force in the crime-ridden remains of Detroit, Michigan, which is slated to be replaced by Delta City once the crime rates have been brought down for the safety of the construction workers. When police officer Alex Murphy is killed in the line of duty, his brain is used to power cyborg RoboCop, an ambitious OCP employee's idea for how to deal with crime. His creator didn't expect RoboCop to start regaining Murphy's memories, or that Murphy's humanity would be able to come through so clearly. As RoboCop proceeds to clean up the streets, which includes battling the gang that killed him, it becomes obvious that OCP is part of the problem in Detroit... Smartly written, ROBOCOP is a highly entertaining blend of elements and genres.
In the 23rd century, Earth and its colonies on other worlds are ruled over by the fascistic United Citizen Federation government. When humans stir up the insect-like inhabitants of the planet Klendathu, the bugs strike back, sending an asteroid to Earth and destroying Buenos Aires. This just gets more humans to come to Klendathu - the Mobile Infantry, the UCF military force. The film centers on a group of soldiers from Buenos Aires, in particular a young man named Johnny Rico, who the story follows through his last days of high school, his decision to join the military, his experience in boot camp, and ultimately shows him becoming a war hero at the head of a group called the Roughnecks. It's a sci-fi war story that I find spends too much time on the life of Johnny Rico, a character I never care about at all.
SATIRE
ROBOCOP skewers corporatism, having a corporation running the police. It takes on consumerism, showing us things like commercials where artificial hearts are pitched like they're the latest sports car. And it mocks the media, showing soulless news anchors reporting on horrible events with big, cheesy smiles on their face. It has a smart edge, but the message doesn't overwhelm the story and is softened with absurdity.
STARSHIP TROOPERS continues the satirization of media (propaganda in this case), while also being an action movie that's a satire of action movies. Verhoeven and Neumeier were working from a story that idealized war and decided to go over-the-top with that perspective, delivering a film full of jingoism and machismo which says that violence is the best way to solve problems. It's a fun idea, if you don't take it at face value.
TONE
The tone of this film is perfectly balanced. It's funny, it's unnerving, it's exciting, it tugs on the heart strings, and it never goes too far in any direction. It's serious when it needs to be serious, and in between those moments it keeps things lively and fun.
The ideas are good, but STARSHIP TROOPERS is way too silly for me. It plays like a bad movie that's purposely trying to be bad, and loses me early because of that. When I see 30-year-old high schoolers doing flips during a sporting match, I tune out of this live action cartoon.
ACTION
The battles with the primary villains involve a vehicular chase, an exploding gas station, a shootout between RoboCop and multiple heavily armed bad guys in a warehouse, a cyborg vs. drone match-up, and a cat and mouse game in a steel mill with RoboCop facing adversaries who have military weaponry. Between fights with them, we also see Robo on patrol, thwarting robbery and rape and ending a hostage situation. At one point, the rest of the police force even turns against Robo. You definitely can't say that ROBOCOP lacks action.
There's a lot of gunfire and a fair amount of explosions as Earth's commandos take on the insect alien hordes of Klendathu. There are a few variations on this sort of sequence, with different types of bugs involved. If you're looking for more than the creature feature thrills of watching giant bugs get mowed down with bug guts splattering all over the place, there is also a sequence in which invading ships are blown out of the sky by the plasma blasts some of the bugs are able to emit. These bug battles may not be the most captivating, but they are fun.
VIOLENCE
Given the title and concept, you might expect ROBOCOP to be goofy fun for all ages, but that's not really the case (even if us '80s kids did watch the hell out of it when we were young). This is hard R, with a couple examples of the most disturbing violence I've seen in movies - a moment when a business man pleading for help is blasted to bits by an enforcement droid, and the brutal murder of Alex Murphy. There's a lot of bloody violence all through the film, and the climactic cherry on top is the sight of a man melting and falling apart after being doused with toxic waste. There are some very troubling things and some major gross-outs in here.
These bugs don't really look like much, but they can really mess a person up, and Verhoeven certainly isn't one to shy away from showing the damage they're able to inflict on the human body. Much like their own bodies are blasted apart by the gunfire, they also tear many a human apart. People are impaled by the bugs' spear-like legs and ripped limb from limb. One unfortunate fellow doesn't even make it into a bug battle, getting shot in the head with live ammo during basic training. Of all the mayhem Verhoeven packed into this film, that head shot is what I feel is the best, most shocking and disturbing moment of it all.
ROBOCOP
ROBOCOP is a childhood favorite of mine, I have watched that movie many times and still enjoy it today just as much as I ever have. STARSHIP TROOPERS has never been very appealing to me. Before this Face-Off, I had only watched the movie once, on VHS in 1998, and I didn't like it. Giving it another chance now, I can understand what Verhoeven and Neumeier were going for with it, but it still doesn't work very well for me. The best it can do against ROBOCOP is tie in a couple categories, as I find ROBOCOP to be a much stronger film overall.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or would you side with the Roughnecks over RoboCop? Share your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment below. If you'd like to suggest a future Face-Off pairing, send me an email at [email protected].

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