In which our critic ponders propaganda and religion in "Starship Troopers 3: Marauder"

I know I'm not alone in thinking that Starship Troopers is a masterpiece. Directed by Paul Verhoeven — who made Showgirls, another of my unironic favorites — it's absurdly enjoyable scifi camp. Giant bugs, a cameo by Rue McClanahan, and ‘90s B-movie princess Denise Richards: what more could you ask for?

But Starship Troopers never really merited a sequel, and the so-bad-it's-good charm can only be carried so far. I was lucky enough to miss out on Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation, which didn't even have the decency to bring back Casper Van Dien's Johnny Rico. (Full confession: I totally would have watched it if it were streaming on Netflix Instant.) Starship Troopers 3: Marauder had marginally better reviews, not to mention the return of Van Dien and his bare ass. So at the risk of missing out on key plot points from the second Starship Troopers installment, I decided to dive right in to Marauder.

Truthfully, the direct-to-DVD flick isn't all bad, even though it never reaches the ridiculous heights of the original incarnation. Here's what it does have going for it.

Marauder brings back the propaganda-laden informational videos that gave Starship Troopers such a great sense of self-awareness. These aren't nearly as funny (or subtle), but they do include lines like, "Our ideas, no matter how pleasing, are dangerous." There's also plenty of eye candy in the form of the ageless Van Dien, Jolene Blalock, and a bunch of hunky soldiers who still shower together. There are new weapons, bigger bugs, and higher stakes. There is a character named Dix, played by Undercovers' Boris Kodjoe.

But Starship Troopers 3 is mostly a mess in the not-good way. Its message is muddled, which wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't rammed down our throats. Seriously, if you're going to work that hard to make a point, be sure you know what it is first. Marauder takes a weirdly insistent stance for and against religion, depending on what part of the movie you're watching. There's definitely something to be said here-Starship Troopers commented on war and the military but left religion out of the equation. Starship Troopers 3 could follow the same pattern and find something new to say about holy wars and religious fanaticism.

It could, but it doesn't. In the first news break, we learn that religion is no longer be tolerated in terms of its effect on the war effort. But religion is banned by the same people who put peaceful protestors to death, suggesting that we're not supposed to sympathize with this restriction on personal freedoms. Fine-until we meet religious zealot (and Sky Marshal pop star!) Omar Anoke. Anoke bonds with God-crazy flight attendant Holly, who soon learns that he's worshipping false idols. Anoke's God is the brain bug psychically controlling him, Behemecoytal, Brain of Brains.

Let's dissect this, shall we? In Anoke, we see religious devotion aligned with mind control. Hard-ass Admiral Enolo Phid explains it as follows-"Most powerful man in the galaxy finds God and what does he do? Exactly what he's told … He doesn't think, doesn't protest, doesn't rebel." That's a pretty clear condemnation of blind faith. So which is it-are we supposed to judge the military for their anti-religious stance, or are we meant to agree that religion is a dangerous distraction? In Anoke's cases, it is, as he orchestrates a massacre on behalf of Behemecoytal. And Holly, who subscribes to the Judeo-Christian idea of God, isn't portrayed all that favorably herself. After learning what Anoke worships ("It's the wrong God!"), she casually suggests killing him.

But wait, maybe religion's a good thing after all? Anoke is drawn into the brain bug's vaginamouth-and if there's any doubt that those orifices are supposed to resemble female anatomy, Anoke basically has an orgasm when he enters it. Tough pilot (Lola) and Holly are the only two left standing, and with no hope of salvation, they begin to pray. Suddenly, the angels arrive to save them. And by "angels," I mean Johnny Rico and his rag-tag gang of starship troopers. Their prayers are answered!

As if that's not strange enough, Lola undergoes a religious awakening. When her beau proposes, she demands that they be married in a church. "I got religion, Dix," she tells him. "I got it bad." And suddenly religion is A-OK for everyone-it even becomes sanctioned by the military. Now it's back to being propaganda, with the news break proclaiming, "It's official: God's back. And he's a citizen, too."

I legitimately can't tell what point writer Edward Neumeier was trying to make here. Is Starship Troopers 3: Marauder an atheist's dream or nightmare? And yes, perhaps I'm reading too much into a thoroughly mediocre sequel, but I can only say so much about Van Dien's ass. If the film is, in fact, an attack on false idols, I can safely say I will never hail Behemecoytal. After all, I already worship at the altar of Paul Verhoeven.

In Pop Punishment, Louis Peitzman endures the most derided genre films and television, all for your sadistic pleasure. Need more punishment? Follow Louis on Twitter.