Nazis on the moon. It’s a concept so simple, yet so outlandish, so instantly amusing, that it would be nearly impossible to screw it up. And yet, we have IRON SKY, which has risen – or possibly sunk – to that very challenge. The film has been in the pipeline for a long time. It brought us a teaser trailer way back that instantly made exploitation fans wild with anticipation. Now that the finished product is here, it is our unenviable task to figure out where it all went wrong.
The year is 2018. A manned mission has been sent to the dark side of the moon, not for scientific study, but as a cheap political stunt and perhaps some good old-fashioned mining for natural resources. Unfortunately, no sooner do the astronauts land then they stumble on a secret Nazi moon base. When the Nazis are done, the only survivor is African-American model-turned-space-explorer James Washington (Christopher Kirby). The only person who is sympathetic towards him, even if she is misguided, is Renate Richter (Julia Dietze). Although claiming to be an expert on Earth, she has been completely misled about its customs, as well as the history and purpose of the Nazi party. There are others on the moon in her same position apparently, but we never find out who or how many. For much of the film, it’s just Renate being oblivious to the fascist agenda around her.
Back on Earth, the White House is in an uproar. The President of the United States (Stephanie Paul), who is obviously modeled after Sarah Palin, figured sending a black man to the moon would be a surefire way to earn her re-election. Now that the mission has failed and all involved are believed dead, she’s barking at everyone to give her results. This includes her chief spin doctor, Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant), who in turn barks at her underlings to figure a way out of this mess.
The opportunity seems to arrive as a scouting party of Nazis make their way to Earth, looking for iPod batteries to fuel their secret weapon (don’t ask). The group is led by Klaus Adler (Götz Otto), who hopes to seize control of the Party and become the new Führer. Washington has also accompanied the group, since he has assured them he can introduce them to the president. Unfortunately, the Nazis have also turned him into a white man and soon dump him out on the street. When the Nazis do introduce themselves to the White House, their rhetoric briefly becomes the platform of the President. Speeches that envision a utopian dream are just what people want to hear. If they don’t say how that dream is achieved, all the better. It would be an interesting direction for the film to take and it lasts all of two minutes in the finished film, dropped without explanation. Soon, Adler has what he needs to bring the invasion force to Earth. It’s up to Washington and the reformed Renate to save the world if they can.
When the concept of your film is “Moon Nazis attack,” you really don’t need to ratchet up the crazy meter very much. Many of the best cult films have played their material very straight. Instead, director Timo Vuorensola goes for broad satire and everything is over the top. The film winds up being neither as funny nor as smart as Vuorensola believes.
The characters are painted with the broadest brush possible. Washington is not just African-American, he’s a stereotypical hip-hopper whose reaction to the Moon Nazis is, “Y’all must be trippin’.” When asked about anything scientific, he replies “I just follow the paycheck.” So, the man handpicked to lead an expedition to the moon – even if he is a former model – is just looking to get paid. Nice.
If you’re looking for good roles for women, you’re also out of luck. I do not require progressive characterization in all my films. This is the type of thing I only address when it’s blatantly obvious and overwhelming to the finished product. So, I’m not reacting to any red meat that stinks of political incorrectness when I say that the women in this film are so poorly written, it must have been a conscious choice.
Renate is the most positive female character and she’s an easily duped Nazi who never questions why everyone else she knows obviously has a different agenda than she does. As I stated, the President is modeled after Sarah Palin, so in other words she’s an ignorant redneck. Worst of all is the Vivian character, painted as a slutty, manipulative, power-hungry harpy who will murder women and children if her sexual advances are ignored.
And let’s go back to that President, shall we? I realize that this film has been in the works for a few years now. Still, the fact that the filmmakers didn’t realize how poorly a Palin clone would translate in the finished film speaks volumes. Anyone who suggests I’m a fan of Palin or her policies would get laughed out of the room. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is the lowest hanging fruit on the tree. The role is annoying, unfunny and hopelessly dated. The best opportunities for comedy are handled in only the broadest and most wishy-washy manner possible. IRON SKY continually picks such easy targets for its wit that nobody could possibly be offended by their inclusion.
And offensive is something that should be in the mix, if you’re doing a comedy about Nazis. Instead, the Nazis are immediately shown as being ignorant and out of touch. Right away, in a bid for cheap humor (One person complains about every meal consisting of sauerkraut), they have painted their villains as buffoons. This effectively drops the threat matrix to zero and kills any suspense in the film.
And yes, Udo Kier is in the cast. Unfortunately, he is wasted so outrageously that he seemed like pure window dressing. He plays the current Führer that Adler wishes to overthrow. He is given no truly interesting material and his entire role seems to serve as a detour in the story.
Another surprise is other than one character incorrectly using the term “Kristalnacht,” IRON SKY fails to mention the Holocaust in any way. This might seem like a strange thing to fault a film for, but think about this for a moment. In a history of evil, the most evil thing the Nazis are known for – indeed one of the most evil moments in history – was the Holocaust. To fail to mention it would be like making a film about Al-Qaeda and never bringing up 9/11. I get it. It’s a provocative subject. It’s hard to address, especially in a comedy. But to gloss over it entirely is conspicuous and reeks of cowardice
The film is frustratingly short on specifics. After teasing a plot involving the slow manipulation and deterioration of Earth governments, the endgame winds up being “send in the Moon Nazis.” We never understand how the Nazis have survived undetected on the moon all this time, or even how they got there in the first place. Renate discovers that the Nazis have been lying to her, but only after a couple unfortunate encounters. She never understands the depths of the deception. And as mentioned earlier, we are never let in on how far this campaign of misinformation went and who was effected. For much of the film, it’s just Renate and a few nameless students being oblivious to the blatantly fascist agenda around them.
IRON SKY is at its absolute worst when it thinks itself some high concept satire of the first order. It shamelessly lifts scenes and ideas from other, better films. It even uses its exchanges in the United Nations (so poorly represented, one wonders if Vuorensola even understands what the United Nations is) to mimic the war room scenes of DR. STRANGELOVE. In its pretentiousness, IRON SKY has absurd delusions of grandeur. This film will never achieve the cult fan base it shamelessly courts, not unless that fan base’s standards have sunk to a new low. Instead, it promises to date as poorly as Watergate spoofs of the 1970s such as WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON.
Rarely has a film squandered such a great premise so totally and completely. IRON SKY is a failure on every conceivable level. It is poorly written, poorly directed and if you aren’t overacting, you may as well not be on screen. It tells an expansive story, but makes every conceivable wrong decision in its handling. It could have been much better in more competent hands. IRON SKY isn’t funny and it isn’t entertaining. It’s just a study on how even the most surefire premises can be turned into complete disasters. ZERO STARS (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for language, sexual situations and violence
– Running Time: 1hr 33mins.