It is the 23rd century and Earth is now a spacefaring planet, governed by a military federation after democracy brought mankind to the brink of ruin. The population is divided into Civilians and Citizens and individuals can only gain citizenship through military service, earning the right to vote and have children. Glossy propaganda videos extol the virtues of bravely serving your planet and warn of the continual threat from bug asteroids, sent hurtling our way from the other side of the galaxy by the disgruntled inhabitants of Klendathu.
We meet a bunch of fresh-faced (and very white) high school students in Buenos Aires. There is Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), a football star, and his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards); Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), Johnny’s teammate who has a crush on him, and brainiac Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), who has budding psychic powers.
After graduation, they all sign up for federal service. Johnny becomes a grunt in the Mobile Infantry, later joined by Dizzy; Carmen trains to become a pilot in the space fleet, and Carl’s abilities make him the perfect fit for Military Intelligence.
Earth declares war on Klendathu when one of the asteroids wipes out the kids’ hometown. Everyone is raring to kick some carapace but the first invasion is a disaster when Military Intelligence underestimates the Arachnids. This leads them to surmise there is a “Brain Bug” somewhere directing the seething hordes.
Paul Verhoeven presents this society as a utopia where everyone is middle-class and prosperous and all the kids are totally cool with the idea of military service, presumably brainwashed by the relentless propaganda. It is briefly mentioned that the bugs of Klendathu were minding their own business until humans started threatening their space, prompting the question: “Are we following the baddies here?”