Movie Review - Iron Sky
I wanted to like this movie...I really did.
Pretty cool, right? I mean, come on, space Nazis.
But as you get into the film itself, well, that's when things start to fly apart. You see, the concept in and of itself is sound: Nazis left the Earth from a secret launch base in Antarctica back in 1945...when World War 2 wasn't going quite so much in their favor...and they've been plotting their return on a shwastika-shaped moonbase ever since. The events of Iron Sky show that return in the near future of 2018.
So what happened? How did we go from great concept (where I'd be writing this as an "In Defense Of..." review) to the film we ended up getting, which, if I'm honest, doesn't quite make "Because I Hate Myself..." territory, but does come off as very low end mediocre. Well, I think what would've made this movie great is if they'd opted to go for Sci-Fi Action SATIRE as opposed to Sci-Fi Action COMEDY. Yes, there's a difference and I'll explain.
The movie starts off with the US's return to the moon that serves two purposes: first as a re-election ploy for the Sarah Palin-like president as she uses this as publicity not only for the return to the moon, but having a black man as part of the crew and second, as a scouting mission for Helium-3, which would allow for America to become energy independent. Upon landing, the astronauts discover the secret Nazi moonbase. One is killed, the other captured. Seeking any way for the Nazis to spare his life, the hostage astronaut overplays his relationship with the President and the Nazis do indeed keep him alive to exploit this opportunity to kick start their invasion. Once on Earth, they manage to kidnap the President's campaign manager and actually convince her, through her attraction to the underfurher, to restructure the President's re-election campaign to be more...well, let's say more 1930's and 40's German-ish.
Let's pause here for a moment...because we've already got enough here to make a pretty biting political satire. Our Palin-like President could do a wonderful job of pointing out how idiotic American politics and politicians have become. American energy dependence is also an easy enough target. The plot point of Nazis actually steering American policy? Again, low hanging fruit with all the NSA stuff and what have you in the news daily. But no matter how low hanging the fruit is, these are certainly all ideas ripe for picking and definitely good stuff for a movie about invading space Nazis. So how did it all go horribly wrong? Well, I said I'd explain the difference between satire and comedy. The problem that Iron Sky runs into is that it runs at larger-than-life all the time. Everyone at least at some level is hamming it up for the camera. Lea Sergant's presidential campaign manager is ESPECIALLY guilty of this. And I'm not sure where the blame lies with Christopher Kirby's black astronaut James Washington...but my guess is that the Finnish writers didn't feel comfortable writing a black character. Overuse of "trippin'" and what have you are cliche and sadly an indicator of this. Regardless, it seems like every scene has a wink to the camera, knowing the audience is there and thus the cast feels it necessary to ramp up the exaggeration for the sake of comedy.
And that's the sad thing...because the movie makes many nods to one of my favorite cold war satires, Dr. Strangelove (most obvious is the scene where a now white James Washington gets up out of his wheelchair and the closing scene with explosions going off all over the Earth). In satire, you're more concerned with the point you're trying to make and Iron Sky could've benefitted from some restraint. It's almost as though they had a good skeletal framework for the screenplay, then they just tried to chock it full of as many jokes as they possibly could. Given the level that they go to, I'd almost say that this a Jodorowsky-ian attempt at comedy, but since there's no one with any deformities in the film, that shoots that down. I'm willing to admit, given the film is of Finnish origin, maybe it's just a European humor I just don't get. (But since I'm such a fan of Brittish comedy...maybe not.)
The special effects are servicable and honestly, given that this was a combination of independent film and crowd sourced/funded...well, at times the visuals are even impressive. One is expected, however, to adjust to obviously green-screen sets very quickly otherwise your mileage/tolerance for this movie will suffer accordingly. I will say this, the space battle and the Meteoblitzkreig (well, the from-space half of it) look great and you can tell this is where the bulk of the money went. Some of the more earthly effects and backgrounds on the Nazi moon base...well, not so much. Granted, I tend to be more forgiving of effects if the story is good and since the story is...well...not so much, perhaps my eyes started to nit-pick.
In the long and short of it, for as much as people cheer independent filmmakers and decry the studio system, honestly, I felt Iron Sky maybe could've used a little studio influence. There's a great core idea here and the actual story framework mostly works. The problem is tightness. Everyone from the writers to the directors to the actors needed a bit more focus. The movie needed to spend more time crafting its humor instead of using that time to constantly wink at the camera...almost in that classic Looney Tunes style of "Silly, isn't it, folks?" I understand that comedy is a subjective thing and dark comedies, what this movie would likely best be geared for, are difficult things to successfully pull off. Maybe a better way to sum up would be to say that this movie aims too much for guffaws and not enough for smarts. And that's where the infamous 'studio notes' could've come in...although, granted, studio notes can be just as stupid as some of the things we do end up seeing in this movie.
Still, I just can't help but think that a looming over-presence would've helped this movie be more than what it ended up being.
See what I did there? Sadly, the folks behind Iron Sky likely didn't...and that's the problem.