Iron Sky: 50s Sci-Fi Shlock for the Internet Generation

Well, there’s certainly passion on display. In Iron Sky, genuine sci-fi enthusiasm mixes with a wacky plot-line, homages to Internet memes, and political satire in such an audaciously scatter-shot way that the film is easy to get swept up in. Whether one will stay swept up…well, this one will probably be entirely your kind of thing, or entirely not.

So there are Nazis on the moon, yes, and an African American astronaut turned Caucasian against his will, and a Sarah Palin caricature as president, and references to everything from George Lucas to the Downfall meme. Sound good? If it doesn’t, there won’t be much in the film to change your mind. If it does, there’s lots more to be had. In case you were worried that the premise wasn’t fully committed to, the moon Nazis attack in space zeppelins hauling giant rocks — the “meteorblitzkrieg.”

The main complaint against the film, though, has been of its failure to capitalize on the wackiness of its premise, and it’s here that Iron Sky is a bit of an oddity: in its restraint.

While its combination of satirical, sci-fi, and grindhouse elements is undeniably chaotic, the film is actually quite a neat little package. Its conclusion, which attempts somewhat haphazardly to unite everything, may elicit a few groans, but throughout there is a clarity of vision which many recent throwback films lack. What Bitch Slap or Zombie Strippers! didn’t quite seem to pick up on was how easy it is to numb an audience with silliness. Iron Sky, in never over-doing, manages to build gradually to a reasonably satisfying – but still very silly – final act.

There’s something pleasantly inoffensive about Iron Sky; whether this is by intention is unclear. The satire, in its broadness and obviousness, is toothless (though the concept of Palin charging towards re-election on the power of Nazi rhetoric is sure to provide belly laughs for some), while the action and violence of the main story are kept at a 50s sci-fi pitch. Those hoping for an all-out space-Nazi splatter-fest, unfortunately, will be disappointed.

Likewise, sex and vulgarity are kept to a relative minimum, but this restraint, again, becomes part of the charm. The feeling of being in a 50s theatre is always present (minus, we hope, the stench of cigarettes and fear of Communism), and the juxtaposition of this somewhat wide-eyed puerility with Nazis, strong and profane female characters, and an African-American lead is a joke which seems to periodically catch one throughout the film. (As a thought experiment, throw Richard Roundtree into Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. It’s funny, right?).

Iron Sky doesn’t look cheap, but it doesn’t look like a blockbuster either. Its main weakness is the significant number of green-screen backgrounds, which is a shame, because one of its main strengths is the excellent production design, when it’s on screen. The moon base looks great, and the question of technology from the 40s developing in isolation is treated with great interest by the design team. Likewise, the Nazi zeppelins are genuinely cool, and their trump card – the “Götterdämmerung” (you’ll have to wait and see) – is worthy of the long anticipatory setup it’s given. Some of the effects are downright goofy, but Iron Sky is designed cleverly here: whatever looks cheesy tends to add to the 50s sci-fi feel, while whatever looks good is an unexpected bonus.

Iron Sky is more serious with itself than one might expect, with mixed but generally positive results. If nothing else, though, it’s probably pretty unique on the list of films you can see in theatre this year, and it won’t be one of the worst by a long shot. Oh, and don’t worry – along with the Nazis, there are space battles, airlocks, and UFOs landing on farms, just the way sci-fi should be.