I imagine I’m a little late to the party with this one. Oh well, I guess it’s a novelty to do a WTF Sunday review that most of you will have heard of.
Less fun than the trailer.
In 1945, as World War II was drawing to its inevitable end, the Nazis sent some of the faithful to establish a secret base… ON THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON! Now, 73 years later, the US President has ordered the first manned moon landing since the end of the Apollo missions in 1972. After they are discovered by these American interlopers, the current Fuhrer of the Fourth Reich orders an invasion to retake Earth. Political satire ensues.
Like most of you, I had been keen to see this flick since I first heard the phrase “Space Nazis from the moon”. When the first trailer was released I almost had to change my underwear. In fact, I would liken my overall Iron Sky experience to the anticipation and eventual viewing of Snakes on a Plane back in 2006. If you ask some of the people I was working with at the time, they will tell you all about how I would giggle with undisguised glee at the very mention of the Samuel L. Jackson opus in the run-up to its release. I’m not kidding; it was almost Pavlovian. But like with Snakes, it turns out that Iron Sky is partly a victim of its own concept, and of its own hype.
Directed by Timo Vuorensola, from a script by him and Michael Kalesniko, Iron Sky perhaps sees itself as the heir to Dr. Strangelove’s crown when it comes to satirising war. Unfortunately, the film seems to focus on soft targets – such as Sarah Palin – or on retreading old comedy ground. Parts of the final act are almost direct lifts from Kubrick’s classic, for example. To be a successful satire, a film needs to go places others are afraid to. There are moments here where it seems like that might be about to happen, but nothing truly biting ever comes along. A prime example is [mild spoilers ahead] when the advance Space Nazi* recon force of Renate and Adler find themselves running the President’s wildly successful reelection campaign using the tenets of National Socialist propaganda. This becomes a three-minute gag that doesn’t even get a punch line before the story bounces ever onwards towards the effects-happy finale. [Spoilers finished. You can come back now.] Read as a straight parody of both WW2 and alien invasion flicks however, it is considerably more successful.
Speaking of the effects, they are what save the movie when the comedy starts to flag a little. The end results are even more impressive when you consider the flick’s budget and timetable (both miniscule compared to big Hollywood productions). Iron Sky makes extensive use of greenscreen sets, particularly for all the moonbase sequences, and they look great. The attention to detail is fantastic; the sort of steampunk (Nazipunk?) combination of 40s-era materials and techniques with space-age results is as deliriously wacky as you would expect.
Iron Sky was made by a Finnish creative team in Germany and Australia, with producers from all three countries, and the international nature of the production is reflected in the cast. French-born German actress Julia Dietze takes the lead role of the Nazi ingénue Renate Richter. She has some misconceptions about the true nature of the Fuhrer’s philosophy and has her eyes opened by US astronaut and male model James Washington, played by Christopher Kirby (the only American in the cast, albeit one who has lived in Australia since the late 90s). These two have a solid chemistry together but Washington isn’t helped by his cliché, almost jive, dialogue. Richter easily wins the award for best looking Nazi in movie history, but she is also disarmingly sweet-natured and sympathetic.
Kiwi actress Stephanie Paul plays the unnamed (you won’t need me to tell you it’s Palin) and trigger-happy President, backed up by Australian Peta Sergeant as Wagner, her campaign adviser turned wartime general. The invaders are led by the legendary Udo Kier as the reigning Fuhrer, and Götz Otto – probably best known outside his native Germany as Mr Stamper, Jonathan Pryce’s henchman in Tomorrow Never Dies – as the ambitious and vicious commander Klaus Adler. It is noteworthy that all the Nazis are either cartoonish dolts or naïve innocents who only need to be shown the error of their ways. The Americans also fall into that first category. In fact, just about everyone does except Washington and Renate. Suffice it to say there is not much in the way of nuance or shading to be found among the characters.
I watched Iron Sky today by myself and it was, well, okay. I would wager it would be much more enjoyable as a group experience, even more so with lots of beer. In fact there are probably a few good potential drinking games to be found within these 93 minutes. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. Even though the dialogue is in English, it is still a Finnish film. My Finnish roommate loved it. I suspect the consensus opinion will improve over time as we get further away from the novelty excitement created by the advertising. I’ll watch it again in a couple of years and let you know how I get on. Oh, one last thing: if you’re watching Iron Sky for the first time, keep an eye out for the emergency motivator. Best gag in the film.
*I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of typing that phrase.