The moment you use a Nazi reference in a political debate it means you’ve already lost. On screen, playing fast and loose with Nazi tropes can spell the same swift doom.
Consider “Dead Snow,” a horrific in all the wrong ways zombie film that used Hitler’s goon squad as the undead du jour.
Now, we have “Iron Sky,” a sci-fi political spoof now available on home video aiming at two targets- Sarah Palin and Nazis. Oh, and maybe the American experiment in toto, although it’s often hard to tell.
“Aim” is a slippery term given how scattershot the political spoofery on display turns out to be. The gags themselves require scare quotes to identify them as such. The set design is occasionally first rate, but otherwise the film fails to engage even as a second-rate sci-fi adventure.
In “Iron Sky,” the Nazi menace didn’t end in 1945. The Nazis fled to, where else, the dark side of the moon to lick their wounds and plot their revenge. In the year 2018 the new, improved Fourth Reich is preparing to attack the Earth when a small space ship from America lands near their lunar home.
The Nazis take one of the astronauts, a black man (Christopher Kirby) sent to the moon for score some politically correct points, hostage and bombard him with insensitive racial remarks. The Aryans don’t take kindly to a man of color in their midst, as convoluted a slap against racism you’re likely to find in movies today.
As targets go, are there any bigger, or easier ones to strike than Nazis?
The story follows the growing Nazi menace, the black astronaut returning to Earth along with a comely Nazi (Julia Dietze) and the fumbling efforts of the U.S. President who looks suspiciously like a certain Alaskan governor (Stephanie Paul) to win reelection.
“Iron Sky” is sluggish of pace and serious of tone, a deadly combination for such a cinematic lark. The film arrives with the smug, self-satisfied air of an inside joke with little hope of resonating outside the cast and crew.
The President, who looks like Palin but talks like George W. Bush (had the film been better this gambit might have seemed savvy), is a preening diva who looks at every pawn on the chess board as a possible campaign boost. Mocking Palin at this juncture certainly dates the project, but “Iron Sky’s” inability to land a solid punch is more egregious.
Occasionally, we see the Palin/Nazi comparison ebb into view along with a loping jab at the imperial U.S. pose, but the former is a flimsy argument better aimed at a leader with a real cult of personality problem.
Not that we can think of any at the moment.
You know a Nazi political satire is imperiled when the film’s only laugh involves a coarse scatological reference to Hitler’s mustache. Second place goes to a running joke about Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” being edited down as a tribute to Hitler.
Even the broader gags don’t make sense. The Nazis stand in awe of an iPhone-like device, as if their technology stopped advancing around 1957. But they’ve fashioned a spaceship armada, so clearly they’ve been doing their computer science homework.
The special effects occasionally reveal the movie’s modest budget, although some sets are remarkably potent. The Nazi base itself, for example, is a cleverly constructed station, and some of the swooping aerial shots of the third act invasion wouldn’t look out of place in a Michael Bay clip reel.
Nazis from space almost demands an “Airplane!” style treatment, not a seriously botched attempt at political satire. “Iron Sky” is deadly earnest without the benefit of enlightening political humor or even a simple, “don’t call me Shirley” kind of retort.
The Blu-ray extras include a commentary track with director Timo Vuorensola, behind-the-scenes footage and a making of featurette. The latter shows how the project was born from an ultra-low budget “Star Trek” parody. The leap from there to “Iron Sky” is impressive – at least as far as the special effects and artistic composition is concerned.