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Helldivers 2’s Success Is Making Everyone Watch This Movie

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Helldivers 2's Success Is Making Everyone Watch This Movie

It’s fair to say that Helldivers 2 is having a good week. Beating GTA V’s concurrent Steam players records, the extraction shooter is outdoing everyone’s expectations, including its own, and it seems this success is spilling over. Because if there’s one source that Helldivers owes the most to, it’s Starship Troopers, and it seems the 1997 film is having its own renaissance. Here’s why you should watch it too.

As highlighted by developer Arrowhead Studios’ CEO, Johan Pilestedt (thanks IGN), Starship Troopers’ popularity has risen to being the 45th most popular movie online, according to the ranking of Television Stats. While the graph on the site shows this number climbing from #109 on February 15 to the new number the next day, it’s incredibly unlikely the 27-year-old film was ranking even that high before Helldivers 2‘s initial release the week before.

Helldivers 2, like its original top-down predecessor, begins on Super Earth, where democracy has been upgraded to a managed form, allowing elections to be more predictable. See, before, people could just vote for whomever they wished, but on Super Earth democracy is spread far and wide through bombs and warfare. You’re fighting Terminids, an alien race of insectoid creatures who are just evil, OK, spreading their tyranny across the galaxy, and indeed the evil socialist Cyborgs, and inscrutable Illuminates. The Helldivers, as this catch-up video unimprovably states, are “the galaxy’s last line of offense.”

PlayStation

Which, if you’ve seen Starship Troopers, will sound somewhat familiar. While there are no robots or cloaked Squ’ith, it sure had Bugs, and very much the same attitude toward spreading humanity’s unique approach to freedom across the galaxy. That’s, of course, because Helldivers took heavy influence from Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi epic. Except, when it was released, not many others seemed to understand what it was all about.

The Book Of The Film

The confusion was at least well-founded. Starship Troopers is (very loosely) based on the novel of the same name, written by Robert A. Heinlein, and that book’s politics are…ambiguous. Heinlein himself veered from liberal to libertarian over the course of his life, both a pioneer for racial equality, and a big fan of Ayn Rand. The 1959 book seems to reflect some of his more conservative leanings, glorifying the military, and seeming to endorse its conceit that suffrage was only achieved through military service. At the time of its release, many critics described it as “fascist,” although it’s likely fair to say its exact political leanings were deliberately obfuscated.

Verhoeven certainly had no time for it. According to Empire, the director was quoted as saying “I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring.” He adds, “It’s a very right-wing book,” and that he asked the movie’s writer, Ed Neumeier (RoboCop), to summarize the story for him to save reading through it. But this, it seems, was enough to spark the director’s interest.

Previously, Neumeier had been trying to get a script developed with the amazing title, Bug Hunt at Outpost 7. RoboCop producer Jon Davison observed how similar his idea was to Heinlein’s book, and they eventually discovered the film rights were available. It took years to develop, but the RoboCop writer, producer and director team eventually reunited with all the pieces in place in 1996, and a plan to make a film that would explore the innate fascism in the source material.

Sony Pictures Entertainment

An Immodest Proposal

The result is extraordinary. Satire is almost always most successful when deeply subtle. People were furious about A Modest Proposal because its deadpan delivery meant they really believed Swift wanted the Irish to eat their babies. Starship Troopers did something very different: it was outrageously loud, stupid and bombastic in its delivery of its satirical commentary on the military, and the United States’ approach to spreading democracy.

It was a story about a monstrous future where citizenship and suffrage was only earned through federal service, where humans launched brutal attacks on the planets of insectoid creatures derisively called Bugs. It was irony written on a sledgehammer, repeatedly swung into the screen. And it was spectacular. Hilarious, biting, and wonderfully hammy, it took the eccentricities of RoboCop and cranked it up to 11. And yet even then, no one got it.

Flix & Clips

The negative response from Heinlein fans was understandable. For those who enjoyed it as a fascist work, it was a film that directly contradicted this message. Boo hoo. For those who refuted this interpretation, it was a film that so broadly deviated from its source material as to be an insult. But the wider critical response remains utterly bemusing. No matter how obvious it was, how overtly over-signalled was every aspect of its lampooning, reviewers still thought it was a pro-fascist screed. It’s deeply embarrassing.

Paul Verhoeven told AV Club in 2007 how The Washington Post wrote an editorial calling it “fascist, and the writing and directing were neo-Nazi.” The same paper’s Stephen Hunter wrote that it was “Nazi to the core,” adding, “It’s spiritually Nazi, psychologically Nazi. It comes directly out of the Nazi imagination, and is set in the Nazi universe.” The cruel irony of this—in fact, the abject monstrous stupidity of it—was that Verhoeven, born 1938, grew up in Nazi-occupied Holland. He experienced first-hand the horror of the Nazis, and chose to make Starship Troopers in part because he wanted to criticize such fascist ideology based on personal experience.

Would You Like To Know More?

It’s a film that really holds up. Hell, it’s a film that has never fallen out of relevance since its release, and given how 2024’s looking, is one that might become far too relevant soon enough. Its portrayal of both the military complex and the media response is perfect, and the incredible training camp scene will still shock anyone viewing for the first time.

The special effects remain fantastic, too. The Bugs are elaborate CGI, alongside practical effects, and don’t feel particularly dated. Also, remember Denise Richards? She’s great in this!

I highly recommend getting hold of the movie. It’s on Disney+, which is quite the thing, as well as available to buy on Prime, etc. It’s an absolute classic—a mighty, over-the-top action movie combined with an anti-fascist satire, and you can herald yourself smarter than a WaPo journalist when it doesn’t go over your head.

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