SXSW Review: Iron Sky

After the Nazis were defeated in 1945, some of them fled for the dark side of the moon, from which they would re-emerge when the world would least expect it…

Sounds like fun, right? Silly, perhaps, but uniquely pulpy in its promise. That promise has seen the production of Iron Sky chronicled in geekier circles as it sought fan financing over the past few years, and now, we find ourselves faced with a finished film whose stabs at relevance bog down its irreverent intent.

It’s the year 2018, and a President who is not wholly unlike Sarah Palin (played by Stephanie Paul) has been convinced that re-commencing lunar missions will secure her forthcoming re-election; after all, the moon harbors energy resources like Helium-3 without the rigmarole of Middle East politics. What the President and her astronauts don’t realize is that the Fourth Reich has been harvesting the element for decades now in preparation for their coming invasion, and they see the unwitting arrival of the Americans as their cue for retaliation.

As directed by Timo Vuorensola, the film certainly doesn’t lack for scale as the camera swoops along the swastika-shaped moon base and all around the fleet of space zeppelins, and if anything, the visual effects on display here surpass expectations in their efforts to replicate the bigger-budget bombast of countless blockbusters. The main war machine itself, as revealed in the third act, is a minor marvel of constantly moving gears and parts.

Alas, that’s more than one could say for the film itself. The few inspired touches that directly correlate to the original pitch – a truncated version of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator passed off as pro-Nazi propaganda; the climactic “meteor blitzkrieg” – are buried between bits of stillborn satire in which Palin is President, the Nazis find themselves in great need of iDevices and the sole surviving astronaut, James Washington (Christopher Kirby), is a slang-slinging African-American forced to appear in whiteface against his will.

With hokey references to James Bond, Dr. Strangelove and the Downfall meme of all things, Iron Sky feels more and more like a lost Austin Powers sequel that already feels exceedingly dated in its humor. The cast, including wide-eyed, raspy-voiced Udo Kier, is fully committed to the bit regardless, but their straight-faced performances can’t transcend jokes involving an Einstein look-alike, the warship USS George W. Bush and a subdued but cheap reference to 9/11 during TV news coverage of the Nazis’ initial attack.

The latent potential for this being a new cult favorite does crop up from time to time, mostly during the full-on intergalactic assault that makes up the third act, but the film is more often than not dominated by creaky political incorrectness that transforms the goofy prospect of moon Nazis from something admirably silly to something outright stupid. As it turns out, in space, no one can hear you laugh either.

Grade: D+

VMAs 2018