WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD. Not too many, but a few. You have been warned.
There are few things in the world that’ll attract my attention faster than a good, high-concept movie. Something where you can describe the entire premise in one sentence and which makes you go “bloody hell. I’ve got to see that immediately” (or words to that effect). You know. It’s Dinosaurs in a Theme Park – and they’re running wild! They’re immortal swordsmen! And they’ve got to fight to the death, until the last one standing wins the big prize! It’s a car. It travels in time. It’s a time-travelling car! He’s got a grudge, ‘cos they turned him to sludge! (Well, perhaps not that last one).
The concept of Iron Sky can be summed up very easily (and is, in the trailer and in the very early stages of the movie itself) in one sentence – in 1945, the Nazis left the Earth. Now they’re coming back. That’s all you need to know to get a hook on the movie. What that sentence doesn’t tell you is just how much of a chaotic, crazed, demented, gleeful, astonishing scattershot ninety minute rocket-ride it actually is.
In 2018, there’s an American manned mission to the moon in the offing. It’s got nothing to do with the altruistic exploration of space – it’s a publicity stunt to get the current President of the United States (played by Stephanie Paul) back into office for a second term. That the President is in her mid forties, dresses in sharp power suits, has long black hair and glasses and looks almost entirely similar to Sarah Palin – is obviously purely coincidental.
The two-man crew detect high proportions of “Helium 3” on the moon, but aren’t quite ready for what they also find, as they’re attacked by Nazi soldiers who emerge from a giant swastika-shaped fortress called “The Gotterdammerung” (there are some sentences I never thought I’d type. That’s merely one. There’ll doubtless be more along in a minute). One of the American astronauts is killed – the other’s taken into the fortress for interrogation.
Meanwhile, Renate Richter (Julia Dietze, sweetly pretty and the nearest thing to an actual Disney Princess the world has yet seen, being composed almost entirely of eyes and blonde hair, with a fundamental faith in the goodness of humanity) is delivering a lecture to her class of young Nazi children when she’s interrupted by the arrival of her husband to be, Klaus Adler (Götz Otto). She doesn’t have any choice in the matter, she’s just the most genetically compatible (there’s a 98 percent probability that they’ll deliver perfect Aryan children to carry on the master race).
Meanwhile, the surviving American astronaut James Washington (Christopher Kirby) is interrogated and – gasp! – he’s black. Insane scientist Doktor Richter (Tilo Prückner, frantically channelling Doctor Rotwang from “Metropolis”) immediately embarks on a project to “albinise” Washington (he must be white in order to work for the master race), but not before he finds Washington’s smartphone, which he believes he can use to power the Gotterdammerung and lift it into space. The invasion of Earth can begin, but Washington’s smartphone’s battery dies at the moment of triumph. Notwithstanding the possibility of inventing a charger for it, a mission is mounted to Earth to bring back more phones in order that the invasion may proceed.
Adler’s selected for the job, bringing a newly whitened Washington with him because he claims that he “knows the President of the United States”. Richter’s stowed away for reasons of her own. Adler’s got designs on the Führer’s post and he’s not going to let anything get in his way. On discovering that he’s now white and brainwashed Washington tries to stop himself from rising out of his wheelchair and making the Nazi salute – a moment which had me chuckling as I realised that this wasn’t going to be a movie that was going to have any subtlety in it. Whatsoever. Somewhere in heaven, Stanley Kubrick is calling his celestial lawyer.
Meanwhile back on earth, Not-Sarah-Palin’s publicity agent Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant) is going slowly demented. The surname’s a bit of a tip as to her eventual destiny, of course. Having stage-managed the mission to the moon she’s trying to work out her next move in order to get NSP re-elected. Following a remarkable scene which parodies the legendary Hitler-in-the-bunker meme from “Downfall” shot-for-shot, she encounters Adler and Richter and immediately recognises that here is manna from the very heavens and before they know it they’ve been co-opted into her maniac schemes. Styled to within an inch of their lives (Richter’s now mini-skirted and corsetted with blood red lipstick and an unbuttoned blouse, Adler looks like a male model), it’s not long before the Nazi credo as naively interpreted and espoused by Richter, who doesn’t understand at all what any of it means and thinks it’s an ideal for kind living) spreads across the country. Posters go up which closely resemble Nazi Propaganda from the past, only with Not-Sarah-Palin’s face on them (told you this movie wasn’t subtle). Meanwhile, Washington’s on the streets and drifting, until Richter literally falls over him.
Adler’s plans are less than truly altruistic – a discovery that thrills Madame President, who now has a genuine reason to go to war (a shoe-in for re-election – “these are the only guys that we ever managed to beat all by ourselves”). Richter and Washington set off to try and stop the impending disaster, Richter having had the wool pulled from her eyes by a timely screening of “The Great Dictator” and a close encounter with a bunch of neo-nazis on a street corner.
The rest… is chaos. The invasion begins, Adler makes his move and the war starts. Having decided that Adler’s her best route to fame and glory Wagner goes totally crackers in a career path which ends up with her commanding an American Warship in space. Having been told by Madame President to “wear whatever seems appropriate” she turns up like Servalan, in a catsuit slashed down the front and festooned with Ostrich feathers. It’s that sort of movie. The rest… well, you’ll have to find it out for yourself but once the madness begins to subside the film does a remarkable switch-back in the last two minutes, turning suddenly bleak, hopeless and… haunting. Yes, haunting, which is not something you could say about the rest of it. It’s a real surprise ending and one which works fantastically well. I didn’t see it coming. That moment is accompanied by some great music from Laibach, who provide the soundtrack for the whole film and who never put a foot wrong. The loopy variations on “The Ride of the Valkyries” will be stuck in your head for days.
I can’t remember the last time I watched a more insane movie, to be honest. Reviews have been… mixed, claiming that it attempts to go for the Flash Gordon vibe (Sam J Jones version, obviously), and misses by a mile. Others claim that it overloads that glorious initial concept with a bunch of weak jokes which add nothing to it and flatten any promise it might have had.
I can sort of see what both parties mean – it’s certainly massively over-the-top. The nearest thing to a normal performance comes from Kirby as Washington, and he’s playing a black super-model who’s been turned white, dressed as a hobo while stomping about a giant Swastika-shaped moonbase. Delicate this movie is not. The jokes are certainly scattershot. Some of them fall flat on their arse but there’s so many of them that a certain number of them hit squarely and like Parker and Stone’s best work, this movie is an equal-opportunities offender.
Nobody comes out of this film with credit, least of all the Americans, revealed to be venal, greedy, stupid and at the very best, borderline insane. I was rather surprised by that – none of the pre-publicity gave any indication that this was going to be a sustained attack on advertising, propaganda and Sarah Palin. That it turns out to be more about that than Nazis in Space was a surprising and rather gratifying bonus. The United Nations conference – in time-honoured tradition- is packed with idiots, not least the North Korean delegation who claim that their glorious leader has built the most top-of-the-range nuclear-capable warcraft the world has ever seen. And is then laughed and jeered at by the other delegates.
There is room for delicacy in amongst all this. Although Peta Sergeant almost eats the movie single-handedly – swearing and screwing her way to the top of the food chain while sinking further into terminal insanity – Julia Dietze is wonderful. All wide-eyed and innocent (albeit with a mean fighting style which does involve connecting her boot with as many genitalia as possible) she gets the film’s best and most affecting moments.
There’s a superb running gag involving Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” which reveals that the Nazis have been using it in a chopped down format to teach their children for decades. They’ve taken the ten minutes which includes Hynkel’s remarkable ballet with the giant Earth-Globe and turned it around into an example of “Chaplin’s best ever short subject” and further reason why they will always be superior. It’s a screening of the full film that disillusions Richter completely and sets her on a path which will eventually lead to a remarkable ending which might save her soul, but has drastic consequences for the world in general.
On the whole though, it’s a movie which uses an enormous sledgehammer to crack a very tiny walnut. The message is shouted from the rooftops. The Nazis are bad… but the Americans are even worse, and there’s little difference between the “Kristallnacht Arseholes” (as Vivien calls them at one point) and Not-Sarah-Palin’s mob. Once you’ve got that message, you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.
It’s loud, unglued, nutty as a fruitcake and totally barking. It’s not perfect. I don’t think it ever set out to be. It gives a home to some very very rude jokes indeed. If you want to be offended or upset by it, you’ll certainly find something that’ll do the trick. Let the insanity wash over you and you’ll find yourself having an absolute ball. I’ve got a feeling this one’s going to find a natural place in a million homes over the years as a late-night DVD treat. You don’t need beer and pizza to enjoy it, but it certainly won’t hurt. It’ll find an audience, alright.
I probably shouldn’t love it quite as much as I do, but… unreservedly recommended. You’ll come out of it surprised at the ending but otherwise feeling slightly sillier than you did going in. There are many many worse ways to spend ninety minutes of your life. Enjoy.