Went out last night and saw Iron Sky down at the Royal after some indifferent Thai food. Yes, it's the movie about Nazis on the moon that was crowdfunded by having everybody share trailers with each other over the internet because what a great high concept idea, Nazis in flying saucers on the moon. It’s a notion that carved its own little headspace out pretty quickly after WWII ended and has happily stayed there ever since, kept alive by pulp writers and UFO kooks.
How well does this concept work as a comedic feature film? About as well as any Nazi secret weapon – great on paper but not very practical, and a failure at delivering laughs or victory.
If you recall the end of Mel Brooks' History of the World Part 1, you'll remember the little throwaway gag at the end, "Jews In Space." That little five minute sequence is funnier than the entirety of Iron Sky. It also contains something that you won't see mentioned, referenced, or alluded to in Iron Sky - Jews. I guess Nazis aren't as funny when you think about, you know, what Nazis are famous for.
As a movie produced by Finns and Germans - that is to say, two countries that were on the wrong side of the little dustup that gave us Nazis in the first place - there's a remarkable lack of historical perspective in this picture.
Anyway, the premise of the film is that an American moon landing stumbles across a gigantic Nazi fortress on the dark side of the moon, built in the shape of a huge swastika, a visual gag that is the first in a long line of visual gags that start out mildly amusing and go downhill from there. One astronaut is shot point blank in the head, a great start to any comedy, right? Another astronaut, a black male model named James Washington who was sent to the moon as a publicity stunt by the re-election obsessed American president, is captured by the Moon Nazis. They’re a charmingly retro colony of dispossessed Germans who fled Germany in 1945. Apparently they didn't have a map with Bolivia or Argentina clearly labeled, and decided to go to the Moon instead.
The Nazis discover Washington's smart phone is more powerful than their most advanced computers (Moon Nazi technology is all vacuum tubes and 1940s retro) and can be used to power their giant-spaceship ultimate weapon and allow them to conquer the Earth. This fits in nicely with the plans of Adler, a Nazi captain with dreams of overthrowing the current Moon Führer.
Washington is turned into a white guy so there can be a lot of not-funny scenes of the black guy shocked and amazed that he's now white. No seriously, they turn him white so he can guide them around Earth when they sneak back to Earth to get more smartphones to power their ultimate weapon. Because he needs to be white for that, apparently.
Nazi commander Alder, his schoolteacher liebchen Renate, and male model turned whitey Washington arrive via Nazi flying saucer in New York City where they're immediately shot at by young black urban youths who play basketball while carrying firearms and drive a sporty Volkswagen camper van. Separated from Washington, Adler and Renate fall in with the President Of The United States' campaign director Vivian Wagner, who, after hearing and being impressed by Renate’s heartfelt Nazi propaganda speech, co-opts Adler and Renate to spearhead the President's re-election campaign.
How You Can Tell This Movie Was Written Four Years Ago: the President is a thinly-veiled caricature of Sarah Palin. And when I say "thinly veiled" I mean "she has a different name and that's about it." Hilarious, right? You didn’t get enough Sarah Palin jokes four years ago and you’ve been waiting for a movie to give you two more hours of them? You’re in luck.
Adler, ostensibly on Earth to get modern-day smartphone technology to fire up the Nazis' gigantic super-weapon “Götterdämmerung,” which could have been accomplished in about fifteen minutes at any one of thousands of “Best Buy” stores, is instead hip deep in Wagner’s campaign, fending off Wagner’s advances. He’s surprised at the appearance of the present Moon Fuhrer, a very gray Udo Kier, whom you will remember from Blade and Flesh for Frankenstein. Der MoonFührer arrives on Earth unexpectedly at the spearhead of a Moon Nazi fleet - turns out they decided to invade the Earth without waiting on Adler, which kind of makes the entire plot engine of the movie superfluous - and we are treated to some beauty shots of giant Nazi space zeppelins in orbit before MoonFührer takes some bullets and Adler assumes command.
In fact most of the movie is beauty shots of the Moon, of the Nazi Moon fortress, of the guts of the Götterdämmerung, of giant control rooms, of fleets of Nazi Space Zeppelins, of the various Earth nationality spaceships that are dispatched to fight the Nazi Space Zeppelins. These various special effects shots are lingered over until you find yourself looking at your watch, wishing they'd just distilled this movie down into a sizzle reel of SFX and saved us all ten bucks each. I mean, I like seeing giant space zeppelins as much as the next guy, but they shouldn't stop a film dead.
As the film climaxes in an orgy of computer-generated space ships whizzing around the Götterdämmerung (merely a larger, uglier space ship), Vivian Wagner has donned a weird black leather outfit – presented to us as what I must assume is some kind of hilarious reference to something, but winds up being distracting and incongruous - and is commanding America's space warship (which is called the "George W. Bush." Hilarious!!) to get even with Adler, who wouldn't sleep with her.
Meanwhile America's president Non-Palin is arguing with the rest of the world's leaders in a secret war room at the UN, giving the film a chance to make fun of other nations besides America. Wandering New York with an angry Washington, Renate has realized Nazis are evil after a screening of The Great Dictator and some mean skinheads were mean to her. (How hard would it have been to have a two-minute scene where Renate learns about multiculturalism in NYC, arguably the most multicultural city in the world? Too hard for Iron Sky.) Recovering their lost saucer, she and Washington fly to the Moon to confront Adler aboard the Götterdämmerung and there are lots of explosions everywhere the film can possibly jam in an explosion.
The trouble with Iron Sky is that it's a comedy without much to laugh at. The gags are either weak sauce (this film includes a Wing Commander reference, which is taking us back to what, 2004?) or, in the case of the amusing spectacle of Moon Nazis tooling around in shiny polished vintage Volkswagen Bugs, not given enough screen time or setup to be maximized for full comedy value. There’s a Downfall reference and a Dr. Strangelove reference, breaking the cinematic rule of never reminding the audience there are better movies they could possibly be watching instead of your movie.
It's not like Nazis aren't comedy gold. From Hogan's Heroes to Mel Brooks' "Hitler On Ice," not to mention The Producers, skilled writers have been making us laugh at the NSDAP for decades. The problem is that Iron Sky doesn't think Nazis are funny. Iron Sky actually thinks Nazis are kinda cool, what with their great uniforms and bulky, menacingly impressive technology. It's other countries that are funny; America's Sarah Palin knockoff comes in for a surprising amount of attempted-humor screen time, but once she's in the UN war room, it turns out British people are funny, Chinese people are funny, North Koreans are funny. Even Finland comes in for a laugh. And we already know black people are funny, especially when they act white!
What's NOT funny in this movie are Nazis. They’re piloting saucers or awesome space zeppelins, wearing spacesuits with giant overcoats and snappy SS uniforms, waving MP40s and Lugers around with the clean-shaven authority of Übermenschen. Sweet Nazi schoolteachers dispense Nazi fairy tales to apple-cheeked Moon Nazi children, and Iron Sky gives it to us straight. No laughs here! The film shows a surprising reluctance to poke fun at Germans or Nazis, and since most of this movie is Germans doing Nazi things, that means a comedy with distinct lack of laughs. Honestly, if you're going to put Nazis in a movie, you can't be wishy-washy about it. Unless, of course, you actually think they're sort of cool, which I suspect is at the heart of Iron Sky, yet more nerds fetishizing the NSDAP. Well, fuck you, nerds.
Bottom line: Iron Sky is a thin, thin concept stretched way past its breaking point. As a third-act reveal in a Heinlein juvie (Rocket Ship Galileo) the idea of Moon Nazis has value, but as the hook for a comedy it requires a LOT more comedy than Iron Sky delivers.
-review by Dave Merrill