Paul Verhoeven is a great director, though you might not recognize this if you haven’t seen his other movies. Especially given the multilayered nature of the satire here can lead you to believe it’s a plain right-wing pro-war movie. In fact the whole movie plays very straight, save maybe for the propaganda newsreels.
But with the knowledge that it’s all satire, it’s a pretty fun movie. There’s a lot of fascinating aspects of this fascist society that might be easy to miss otherwise; for example, military training is utterly ruthless (multiple characters come close to dying and that’s not even remarked upon) and it’s not even clear why that’s desirable or necessary. Also, a lot of screen time is spent on romance which is kind of seen as a joke by society (see for example the shower scene where Rico’s peers learn why he joined the army, or Dizzy’s love for Rico which is essentially ignored by him).
The whole pre-battle part reminded me of Milan Kundera’s notion of totalitarian kitsch. Everyone is very earnest and everything is very clean and individualism and irony never seem to come up. Also, I’m impressed that this movie seemed to predict the immediate reaction to 9/11, which was still a few years in the future when it came out. (This is also noted in Adam Curtis’ Hypernormalization, which I also just saw.)
I only don’t give this movie more stars because I found the battle scenes to be a bit dull and repetitive. Although I have to note that they still look really good 20 years later.