Movie Review: Iron Sky (2012)

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Iron Sky, like many modern exploitation films, sets itself up for failure by promising something much, much greater than it is capable of delivering. The idea that buoys it should have been enough, but director Timo Vuorensola has ambitions beyond mere entertainment. Ambition, too, will kill a modern b-movie faster than bad acting, poor scripting, or lame special effects, all of which are acceptable, even welcome, given the circumstances.  Classic exploitation movies, despite what the genre’s name suggests, didn’t go looking for context. Is there anything more vague than a hero’s struggle against “The Man?” Hardly. Whatever focus grindhouse movies had on social issues, more often than not context and purpose were things applied to the genre well after the its disappearance. The best modern tributes understand that politics and current headlines are elements serving to further sensationalize the bullets, broads, and booze, to further exploit a potential audience. The worst seek to lecture its audience through the use of broad comedy. It has ambitions. Ambitions get in the way.

The ambition of Iron Sky is to scandalize American politics, notably the Republican Party, most notably Sarah Palin. In the future, the United States is cash-strapped and wholly-reliant upon foreign energy. To distract from this (and potentially bring home some odd space-fuel, ala Avatar), our presidential Palin surrogate (Stephanie Paul), whose Oval Office features an elliptical machine and the spoils of her kills, launches a manned moon-mission. All goes swimmingly. The lander has landed, the gigantic banner of the President unfurled, the astronauts roving the lunar surface. Then, one of them is shot. The other one is captured. The culprit? Nazis. Moon Nazis. Moon Nazis living in a swastika-shaped moon base, the descendants of a group of terrestrial Nazis who launched their own moon mission when it became clear that the Third Reich was to fall. For decades, they’ve lived on the moon, developing space-based attack strategies and educating their children on the glories of Hitler with a state-approved, 10-minute cut of  The Great Dictator. Clearly, a Fourth Reich is imminent.

For all that promise, Iron Sky falls apart quickly, wandering from the path leading to its eventual lunar blitzkrieg in order to chart the rise of ambitious Moon Nazi Klaus Adler (Götz Otto), who lands in the United States and sets about conquering it by becoming a campaign aide of the President, whose advertising takes on a certain red-white-and-black hue. Adler’s girl, “Earth expert” Renate (Julia Dietze) sneaks abord the ship, which also carries the moon mission’s black astronaut (Christopher Kirby), who has been bleached white by a Nazi scientist (Udo Kier). Why any of this happens is unclear. There’s supposed to be something funny about the Nazi’s dying a black man white, I suspect, but its one of many jokes about the first black man on the moon that falls treacherously flat.

The centerpiece here is the multi-national space battle launched to repel the Nazi invaders (from outer space), but even Iron Sky‘s impressive special effects can’t distract from the inane plot and cast of caricatures working to undermine. The battle gives rise to one of Iron Sky‘s biggest curiosities, which diminishes whatever pleasures sub-par space opera holds, when the president’s campaign manager (Peta Sergeant), the woman responsible for Adler’s terrestrial success, is installed as the captain of the United States of America’s massive starship. If the point was to criticize Palin or Washington croneyism or, well, anything, having the campaign manager do quite well for someone who, a day earlier, was almost murdered by a gaggle of Moon Nazis probably wasn’t the best way to get Iron Sky‘s point across.

But really, what greater purpose should Iron Sky have been promoting? Here’s a goofily premised movie trying unsuccessfully to lampoon a political target whose last day in the sun came years ago. Zombie Strippers did the same thing in 2008, taking a buzzworthy exploitation set-up and miring it in needless political commentary, politics (and existentialism) not being a thing within the grasp of a movie about strippers who become zombies. Maybe it seems pedantic to complain about a movie not being the sort of movie I would have made, but it seems like every year there’s a new movie promising a return to the grindhouse, promising a premise, a cast, or an idea that could and should live up to expectation, but does not. In 2008, it was Zombie Strippers. 2010 had Bitch Slap. Last year had Hobo with a ShotgunThis year, it’s Bad Ass and Iron Sky. And I thought digital filmmaking was supposed to liberating. Maybe it wasn’t the struggle against The Man that dignified a genre, but the struggle to produce.

Rating: Iron Sky. Directed by Timo Vuorensola. With Götz Otto (Klaus Adler), Julia Dietze (Renate Richter), Christopher Kirby (James Washington), Peta Sergeant (Vivian Wagner), Stephanie Paul (The President of the United States of America), and Udo Kier (Wolfgang Kortzfleisch). Released July 25, 2012, by Entertainment One.