For the last few years there’s been something of a buzz building around the Finnish/German/Australian co-production, Iron Sky. Famously pitched to investors at Cannes in 2008 off the back of an impressive VFX demo reel, director Timo Vuorensola’s sci-fi comedy about Nazis on the Moon finally went into production in late 2010.
With the addition of cult movie icon Udo Kier to the cast and several strong early trailers, anticipation was high that the finished film just might deliver on its gloriously bonkers premise. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really happen and – despite its strong high concept – Iron Sky never seems entirely sure of what type of film it’s trying to be.
The plot (what there is of it) pivots around a manned US Moon landing in 2018 which is undertaken as an election stunt by the incumbent, ultra right-wing US President (Stephanie Paul). But when the two-man mission unwittingly disturbs the Nazis on the Moon, one of them is killed and the other taken hostage. This man is black male model, James Washington (Christopher Kirby), a token symbol of the President’s ‘racial enlightenment’ (yes, really).
Questioned and tortured by the ambitious Nazi Klaus Adler (Gotz Otto), Washington is turned over to the suitably mad scientist, Doktor Richter (Tilo Pruckner) where he is ‘aryanized’ in a bizarre albino-style experiment and his cell-phone confiscated for use in the Nazi’s re-invasion project.
However, help is soon at hand for Washington in the form of Adler’s soon-to-be mate, Renate (Julia Dietze). Renate is an ‘expert’ on Earth culture and along with Washington and Adler is soon returned to our planet as part of the Fuhrer’s (Udo Kier) advance invasion party.
But life on Earth doesn’t go as expected, with both Renate and Adler becoming embroiled in the machinations of ruthless Presidential-aide, Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant). It’s Wagner’s plan to use the Nazis to reinvigorate the President’s stumbling reelection campaign, leaving poor Washington stumbling around New York as a bleached out hobo. Meanwhile, with Adler and Renate being lauded on Earth, back on the Moon the Fuhrer is preparing his invasion plans…
Not unsurprisingly, Iron Sky is at its strongest, funniest and most affecting when dealing with the moon-based Nazis and their ossified, out of touch culture. Impressively designed, handsomely costumed and incredibly well realised, the world of the Reich has an integrity, believability and – dare I say it – charm that you immediately buy into.
The German cast also provides uniformly the best performance in the film, with Dietze, Kier and Pruckner in particular pitching their performances just on the right side of camp. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the portion of the story set on Earth.
Unimaginatively shot, flatly designed and uninspiringly played, the film’s version of ‘America’, where the Sarah Palin-esque President is – you guessed it – a bigger Nazi than the Nazis, manages to be shrill, anachronistic and far less funny than it thinks.
Not helping matters on this score are the performances of Stephanie Paul and Peta Sergeant, which manage to suck any real comic potential out of their roles. By far the best and funniest of the English speaking cast is Christopher Kirby as the befuddled Washington, but his role loses direction once the film returns to Earth.
However, it’s in the final stretch that Iron Sky really stumbles, as it decides to drop the attempts at satire and instead tries to clonk us over the head with its ‘message’. Here’s a hint to the filmmakers: no one goes to see a film about Nazis from space looking for insight into the human condition. It’s such a spectacularly ham-fisted and on-the-nose move that it simply rams home just how far the film has drifted from the initial high-concept idea that so enthused everyone in the first place.
All that said, despite its missteps and tonal uncertainties, Iron Sky isn’t totally without merit. Despite its largely unsuccessful gag rate, one or two moments of the more gonzo/scatological comedy really do hit the mark, while the digital FX work throughout is of a very high standard.
But perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, Iron Sky began life as an FX demo reel that piqued investors’ interest, secured funding and – miracle of miracles – ended up going into production.
For all its attempts at being something more, that’s probably how Iron Sky will end up being remembered.