“In 1945 The Nazis Went To The Moon. In 2018 They Are Coming Back.” As taglines go, that takes some beating. It’s about as high concept as it gets, but it only begins to hint at the insanity waiting for you in Iron Sky. In the hands of a Bruckheimer or Bay that tag line might be the whole story – a general framework into which 2 hours of expensive, explosive action and SFX are slotted around supermodels. The artistic merits of such an approach are perhaps questionable, but you can’t really argue with the box office results. But Iron Sky is different. Made for around 7.5 million Euros (a fraction of the standard mega blockbuster budgets) simple economics suggest that the film can’t follow that template. Even with the frankly stunning CGI work they’ve managed, there needs to be some cheaper sequences which, if nothing else, fill out the runtime. What the film makers have chosen to create when the destruction is not raining down may not always work, but never failed to surprise.
We begin as an American lunar lander arrives on the moon in triumph. It’s the first journey to the moon made for over 30 years. Two astronauts head out towards the dark side of the moon (Yes – that old chestnut); one an experienced scientist, the other an African American male model called James Washington who was chosen only in order to boost the popularity of the incumbent US President in the run up to the election. Expecting a simple photo-op on a corner of the deserted rock, they are somewhat surprised to find a large factory mining Helium 3. They are then further surprised when a Space Nazi shoots the scientist in the face and kidnaps Washington. Rough day all round really. We quickly learn that the Nazis sent a mission to the Moon towards the end of WW2 and have been planning revenge on “the United States of the Americas” ever since. The invasion fleet is ready, but their isolation has limited development of their technologies and they lack the raw computing power required to control and pilot these mammoth spaceships. That is until they find Washington’s micro super-computer, better known to you and I as a mobile phone. Things are in motion for a full scale invasion until the phone battery gives out.
Based on this success, the current Führer Kortzfleisch dispatches a covert team back to Earth to steal more of these super-computers. The team consist of Commander (and Führer apparent) Klaus Adler, his finance and resident Earth-ologist Renate Richter and Washington – who sees a chance to escape if he plays along.
Once on Earth, the Nazis find themselves embroiled in the American presidential elections. The current incumbent (who is never directly named but is a non-too subtle caricature of Sarah Palin) is flagging badly in the opinion polls, and the failed mission to The Moon only made things worse. This section is by far the weakest in the film: the attempted jabs at the American political process and the lengths people will go to to win are frankly childish and not really all that funny, while trying to suggest direct parallels between the Nazi and Republican parties seems a little strong. Still, the lunacy of the piece continues to gain momentum as bizarre event follows bizarre event and finally we’re treated to that interstellar Nazi invasion. It’s a bit of a shame that the invasion is once again centred on the US, especially for a Finnish-German-Australian production. There are several scenes in the UN but no indication that the Space Nazis strike anywhere else. Part of this will likely have been budgetary, part to tie in to the satire of the piece, but it’s still a little traditional in a movie that’s anything but. The UN scenes, however, are where the satire finally starts to gel and are some of the funniest in the entire film. The notion of the US bullying every other country into submission and the subtle digs between partner nations are a hoot. From North Korea taking credit for the invasion to a Doctor-Strangelove-inspired punch-up, the satire has now grown into full on farce and in this setting works so much better.
Götz Otto and Julia Dietze have the difficult task of playing Space Nazis brought to Earth. Otto goes with the full on walking cliché, perhaps the only thing missing is a limp or nervous tick. Dietze’s performance works better and provides the heart of the film, as her character is really the only one to go through any form of growth as she learns more about some of the harsher truths of the Nazi regime. Christopher Kirby’s Washington has to go to some strange places but he proves to be up to the task thoroughout. Stephanie Paul’s impersonation of Sarah Palin does what is required, but is one-note and provides no real insight or meaningful commentary on the person she’s spoofing. The only actor I recognised was Udo Kier, familiar to English speaking audiences as “that creepy European guy” in the likes of End of Days, Barb Wire and Blade. And really, who better to play a Führer?
What’s most amazing about Iron Sky’s is what has been produced on such a small budget. The SFX work in particular is stunning for the amount (not) spent, with liberal use of green screen to create some gigantic gothic locations for the Nazi moon base and excellent CGI realising the space armadas. Not everything in Iron Sky is as successful, but that’s often the case with this form of filmmaking, where a limited budget actually allows the filmmakers’ imaginations to run wild with no pressures from external financiers to rein things in. Iron Sky is often funny, occasionally thought provoking and frequently bat-shit insane. It may miss as often as it hits but one thing’s for sure – it’s unlikely you’ll have seen anything quite like it before.
I admit it – I’d go see Michael Bay’s Iron Sky. Just so long as Shia Labeouf and a Victoria’s Secret model once again save the day.