Have you ever read a book that comes out of a vanity press? People go the self-publication route to get that kick of having their name on a “real, printed book” despite the fact that professional editors have all looked at the manuscript and passed. I’m not saying that big publication houses are perfect or that good books don’t sometimes fall through the cracks, but they’ve got a lot of experience in judging quality; if they’re not biting, maybe there’s a reason.
For movies, crowd-funding may be the closest equivalent of a vanity press. A film like Iron Sky is pretty much guaranteed to be a cult hit if it gets produced at all, so why not go straight to the cult? Sure, you can tell yourself that those square bureaucrats just can’t handle an unusual premise like a Nazi base on the dark side of the moon, somehow hidden for over seventy years, but remember that this is the movie industry that greenlighted Cowboys & Aliens and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Maybe this movie had to be crowdsourced because the decision-makers in the normal channels recognized it wasn’t going to be very good. Or maybe it’s not very good because it was crowdsourced — a case of too many producers spoiling the product. Either way the causation goes, it has its moments but it’s just not very good.
So yes, there’s a Nazi base — shaped like a swastika, naturally — on the dark side of the moon, led by aging Mondführer Wolfgang Kortzfleisch (Udo Kier). They’ve been hiding out since 1945, somehow able to sustain a lunar colony yet with technology superficially identical to the 1940s. Their computers, for instance, are still the size of rooms. So when United States president (Stephanie Paul) — a clear Palin parody — sends model James Washington (Christopher Kirby) to the moon as a PR stunt as part of her 2018 re-election campaign as orchestrated by one of her advisors (Peta Sergeant), his smartphone provides the technological leap they need to get their doomsday machine “Götterdämmerung” up and running. Until it runs out of battery.
Rising leader Klaus Adler (Götz Otto) returns to Earth to recover more smartphones with Washington, who has been “albinized” from a black man to an Aryan by a Nazi scientist (Tilo Prückner) who never once mentions sneering at anything, by the way. Along for the ride is Adler’s girlfriend, National Socialist true-believer Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), who speaks of The Great Dictator as a ten-minute short film about how much Charlie Chaplin loved the idea of peaceful, benevolent Nazi world rule.
I was never under the impression that Iron Sky was going to be a great movie, but it could have been a lot more campy fun than it was. A lot of the problem is that with so many inputs there doesn’t seem to have been much pruning. The Palin stand-in, for instance, serves largely to advance the idea that Americans — particularly Know-Nothing conservatives — are the Nazis when real, live Nazis aren’t around. I’m sure someone involved thought it was incisive political commentary, but the movie doesn’t have the heft to really pull it off. And yet she’s not buffoonish enough to be really comedically entertaining, either. It’s as if the filmmakers expect credit just for showing someone who looks like Palin; that she is herself a punchline and they don’t need to actually do any more work to make it funny.
It doesn’t help that the script front-loads all its best material; re-enacting the famous scene from Der Untergang may have been the smartest bit on display, but shoved awkwardly into the first act it feels more like a sop to a meme-soaked audience than a sly cultural reference. The movie pleads desperately to be liked, but by the halfway point it’s used all its best material, and from there it’s a long, slow trudge to mediocrity. Camp needs to build on itself to remain interesting for the length of a feature, and there’s not enough focus here to sustain that interest.
Worth It: not for most people.
Bechdel Test: pass.