The Scoop: 2012 R, directed by Timo Vuorensola and starring Julia Dietze, Christopher Kirby, Gotz Otto, Udo Kier, Peta Sergeant and Stephanie Paul.
Tagline: In 1945, the Nazis went to the moon. In 2018, they are coming back.
Summary Capsule: The tagline sums it up pretty well, actually.
Deneb’s Rating: 2.8 moon Nazis out of five.
Deneb’s Review: Have you ever seen a movie that you should like, and you kinda do, but you also kinda don’t, because it works in spots and it doesn’t in others, and the concept is great but the realization is spotty, and it should be good, and it’s not bad so maybe it is good, but at the same time you don’t really know, and you’re like ‘well, heck, do I like this or not – I ought to, and I don’t really not, but is that the same thing?’ and you ultimately wind up blathering on about it for far too long in a sentence which is probably one of the most awkward run-ons known to man?
Iron Sky is that movie. End of review.
All right, all right, I guess it’s not quite as simple as that. Let’s just take a look at this thing.
The story starts in the near future, as the President of the United States (Stephanie Paul) is beginning her reelection campaign. She and her aide, Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant), have decided that a second Moon-landing will generate the positive press she needs to pull ahead. As such, male model James Washington (Christopher Kirby) is sent for a nice little jaunt to the Moon.
The problem? The Moon already has people on it, and they’re not rival publicity hounds, either. They’re Nazis. Yes, the Nazis.
Seems that during WW2 the Axis top brass foresaw the end coming and established a secret base on the Moon’s dark side, for purposes of striking back at some unspecified future date. (Or so we assume – it’s never exactly spelled out.) The colony has been there ever since, building up their arsenal for a planned invasion.
Needless to say, they weren’t in on the President’s plans, so when her astronauts land not too far away from them, they panic and think it’s a scout ship for an attack from Earth. The pilot is killed, and Washington is captured as a prisoner of war.
This would normally be very, very bad for him. You see, he happens to be black, and as you may imagine, the Nazis have grown even more paranoid and xenophobic of das Untermenschen during 70-odd years of seclusion during which they’ve never even seen any. His goose would be royally cooked, except for two things – one, he happens to have a certain ubiquitous piece of modern technology on him, which they quickly determine far outstrips anything they’ve got in terms of processing power, and may be just the thing they need to put the final finishing touches on the superweapon they’ve been working on all these decades. Two, he happens to mention that he knows the President.
This last detail catches the attention of one Klaus Adler (Götz Otto), ambitious second-in-command of the current Fuhrer, Wolfgang Kortzfleish (Udo Kier). You see, he’s just itching to get on with this whole conquering-the-world thing (with him doing the conquering, of course), and he figures that this is the perfect opportunity to upstage his boss and get the show on the road. So, with Washington as his guide (they’ve artificially ‘Aryan-ized’ him, you see, so by their logic he’s OK now) and his girlfriend Renate Richter (Julia Dietze) stowed away, they head down to Earth.
Will Adler’s mission be successful? How long until his boss realizes he’s out to betray him? How does the President fit into all this? And how in the world is Washington going to convince anyone that Moon-Nazis are about to invade? We’ll see…
OK, I would normally launch into the movie’s pros and cons at this point, but honestly, I can’t really do that in this case without talking about the characters first – you’ll see why. So I’m going to stagger things a bit and talk about good guys/bad guys now.
Now, the obvious one to start with would be Washington, but honestly he’s probably the least interesting character in the movie. Christopher Kirby is funny at times, especially when he’s frantically trying to warn people about the Moon-Nazis (with, of course, nobody paying attention to him), but he’s more of a plot device than a protagonist. (Frankly, he comes across as not the brightest bulb in the box, especially during the scenes where he’s doing the whole ‘y’all be trippin’’ routine while surrounded by freakin’ Nazis. A little, I don’t know, terror might be appropriate, yes?) He may be the impetus for things moving forward, and he gets a few chances to play the hero, but it’s not really his story.
That honor belongs to Renate. Yes, a Nazi is the protagonist of the movie. The thing is, though – and this is the interesting part – she’s not your typical one-dimensional ve-haff-vays-of-makink-you-talk sort of screen Nazi. She is, in fact, an idealist – she’s spent her entire life on the Moon, without any outside context, and she has a naïve but wholehearted belief in the theoretical benefits of the Nazi party – or, at least, the propaganda version that was spread to the public, where they were the good guys who were going to fix everything. Moon education, you see, tends to leave out the whole ‘brutal xenophobic warmongers’ aspect of things. She genuinely believes that their purpose is to unite the world in peace and brotherhood, and Julia Dietze portrays her as such a sweet and loving individual that you have to feel a little sorry for her. She has nothing but the best intentions, but she’s being duped – oh boy, is she ever being duped – and things are not going to be pretty when she finds out the truth. (I’ll get into that later.)
On the villainous side – well, all the other Nazis are basically the villains, of course, but if you had to single out one as the bad guy, it’d be Adler. He is a typical Nazi, a power-hungry, xenophobic militarist who glories in the thought of wiping out the “lower races” from the face of the Earth (although, of course, he’s diplomatically refraining from telling his girlfriend this), and as such, he’s not terribly interesting. Sure, Götz Otto does a good job with the character, making him memorably brutal and short-tempered, and he’s perhaps a bit more directly fanatical than some of his colleagues, but basically he’s an Evil Nazi Villain straight out of the Hollywood playbook – there’s not really much that stands out about him. The same could be said for his superior, Kortzfleish, who is somewhat more intimidating (probably because Udo Kier is a much more experienced actor), but he doesn’t really show up often enough to have much of a presence. The most interesting character trait he has is being annoyed when his subordinates salute him with ‘Heil Hitler’ (who, of course, is no longer a factor) instead of ‘Heil Kortzfleisch’ – but that’s more of a running gag than anything else.
In the neither-one-nor-the-other category, we have the President and her aide Vivian. The President is… well, she’s clearly modeled after Sarah Palin (even though she has a southern, rather than Alaskan, accent) which tells you just about everything you need to know about her. Not the timeliest political commentary, but then, these things do take a while to make. (And one thing I will say is that Stephanie Paul has an uncanny resemblance to the ex-Governor in question. Darned good casting, if nothing else.) As for Vivian, she’s an over-the-top parody of the ‘rapaciously bitchy Fashionista’ stereotype. Neither one of them is a bad guy, exactly (although Vivian does come pretty close to it; more on that later); they’re just kind of stupid and insensitive to those around them. They’re kinda good guys in that they ultimately prove to be anti-Nazi, but then everyone who isn’t a Nazi is anti-Nazi (in the film, anyway – don’t get me started on real life), so that hardly counts. In any other film they’d probably be the antagonists, is what I’m saying.
So that’s the characters. Now, on to good/bad.
Let’s kick things off with the good. To start with, this film looks great. It wasn’t a big-budget production, but you’d never know it from the visuals, which are fully the equal of a Hollywood blockbuster. The look of the Nazis’ uniforms, technology, etc., is gloriously old-school sci-fi, and looks like what they would have been using back in WW2 if the technology actually existed. I mean, they’ve got flying saucers! That’s just awesome.
Furthermore, I like how the movie handles the Nazis as a whole. With certain notable exceptions, they seem to act like people with an ideology as bizarre as theirs would act if they were secluded from the rest of humanity for decades on end. Some have curdled in their own hatred, some are mindless stormtroopers, but most are, like Renate, simply extremely naïve and misguided. In the basic sense of the word, they are innocents – they’ve been brought up to believe that their cause is just and right, and that’s about all they know of the world outside the Moon. (The scene where a couple of Nazi soldiers are excitedly poring over a girlie-mag – the first they’ve ever seen – is a good illustration of this. It’s kind of sweet, in a very strange way.) It’s not a colony of monstrous drones; it’s a colony of people, which we tend to forget the Nazis were.
Also, there are certain details that show the screenwriters were using their heads when they came up with this Moon society. For one thing, the colonists appear to worship the Norse pantheon – appropriate, given the mysticism that the Nazis dabbled in. Then there’s the whole “marriage based on genetic compatibility” thing (which is kind of a no-brainer if you’re making a movie like this, but still), the fact that the Moon colony has its own distinct national anthem, the ever-longer and more tongue-twisting German terms used to delineate rank, based on genuine WW2 terminology – clearly, some thought was put into all this, and it shows. There’s a lot there to notice, if you look closely.
OK, that’s the good stuff. Let’s move on to the bad – and I’m afraid that covers quite a lot of the rest.
Let’s get something straight – this is a comedy, and comedy is a field I rarely dabble in, as it’s not really my thing when it comes to movies. (Not that I don’t have a sense of humor or anything; it’s just that it rarely seems to match up to that of the movie industry’s.) Hence, some might argue that I ‘just don’t get it’, and that this is really a side-splitter for the ages. Well… maybe. But then again, maybe not.
Now, any reasonably observant student of film will have noted by now that there are various different types of cinematic comedy. Just to give a small sampling, there’s the ‘wacky antics’ type, the straight-faced satire, the black comedy, and the dramedy. Each of these have their pluses and minuses, and each have a distinct set of rules and logic that they follow.
So which one describes Iron Sky? Pick one; you might as well, since the movie itself never does.
That is its main flaw – a lack of decisiveness. It samples all the above in a seemingly random fashion that switches back and forth. One might think that this could work in the same way that a buffet meal works, except that in that case, you’re deciding what to put on your plate. In the case of this movie, the filmmakers already have, and they’ve balled it up and stuffed it in your mouth, and all through the running time you never know whether you’re going to taste cheese, chicken, Rice Krispie treat, potatoes au gratin or some strange and queasy mix of all of them together.
Or, if that’s too vivid and bizarre a metaphor for you, you may replace ‘taste’ with ‘tone’. A movie’s tone is very important, especially with a comedy, because it sets the film’s logic. Comedy is the one genre aside from outright fantasy where, under the right circumstances, one can throw logic completely out the window and just have fun. That’s great as far as it goes, but it has to be the right circumstances; under the wrong ones, it invites chaos.
Why? Simple – it points to the plot holes. Everybody is a nitpicker to some degree or other, and if you’re given no sign that logic is supposed to be ignored, you start to use it. This is disastrous in a movie that then proceeds to intermittently abandon logic for wacky hijinks, as you’re not in the proper mindset for them, and can get whiplash trying to adjust.
As a pertinent example, let’s take the basic premise. Nazis on the Moon, yes? A rich premise, full of possibilities – but also one that opens up any number of questions, and once the film gives us the green light to nitpick, it’s difficult to stop.
To start with, of course, they are on the Moon – an airless, lifeless wasteland just inside Earth orbit. We may safely assume that they have found some easily efficient way of basic life support, food and water and air – goodness knows how, but this is science fiction, after all.
All that can be handwaved away. What comes next cannot.
A prominent feature of the plot is that they are so completely cut off from the rest of humanity that they, quite literally, live in their own little world with no outside stimulus, and therefore don’t know about the progression of technology or what the rest of humanity think of them. Three words: radio and TV. You’re telling me that people smart enough to figure out a way to live a self-sustaining lifestyle on the Moon for seventy-odd years didn’t think to install a freakin’ radio receiver? Signals from our gadgets are emitting from Earth’s atmosphere twenty-four hours a day, and people who live on the Moon – the Moon; the closest neighbor we have, a planetoid we can see with the naked eye – aren’t picking them up? Sure, of course they wouldn’t know about (or at any rate, not understand the concept of) the Internet or anything like that, but it beggars the imagination to think that the Nazis – Germans, mind you; then and now one of the most mechanically-ingenious nationalities on the planet – wouldn’t have at least included a few long-wave receivers in their plans for a Moon-base. It… I’m sorry, that’s a major gaffe, especially since just one little line (“The radio broke back in 1953”, for example, or “Listening to the Untermenschen’s broadcasts is strictly verboten for all except top-level researchers”) would have fixed it. (For that matter, if they don’t have at least some access to Earth media, then it renders a certain plot twist completely unworkable.)
Now, again, if you tell me that I’m supposed to ignore all that, then fine, I will. Give me a signal that this is a screw-logic-let’s-have-fun sort of movie, and I will do so. But give me mixed messages like the film actually delivers, and I will use logic, dammit, because that is what the human brain does – and logic freakin’ demolishes this movie.
And even leaving all that aside, certain key plot points strike me as somewhat mishandled. Let us take, for instance, the sequence where Renate figures out that the Nazis are not, in point of fact, the benevolent and well-intentioned social movement she thought they were. (Oh, come on; that’s not a spoiler, what the heck did you think was going to happen?) It is way too short, and way too… well, casual. Need I remind you that this woman has devoted her entire life to this cause, and now she’s discovered that it’s all been a lie? Comedy or not, this should be traumatic! It should be like a cult deprogramming sort of thing, where she’s shocked and tearful and trembling and in denial and… and… stuff! Is it? No! And this is all the more frustrating because there are serious scenes in this movie, and by and large, they work – so why on Earth didn’t they whip out the drama at a time when it was genuinely demanded?
Then, of course, there’s the climactic ending sequence (and no, I won’t spoil it for you; don’t worry). Remember when I said the character of Vivian came pretty close to being a villain? Well, without giving anything away, she does something shocking – really, really shocking – near the end, and it’s shrugged off as just being part of her obnoxious character, and hence played for laughs. It is, to say the least, not something you would normally play for laughs, and honestly left me kind of horrified. You’ll know it when you see it. And then there’s the ending itself – the very ending, as in the last minute or two of the movie – which let’s just say sparked a similar ‘is this supposed to be… funny? Really?’ reaction.
Now, again, one could say that I ‘just don’t get it’, and that I shouldn’t be taking things so seriously; after all, it’s a comedy. And again, I would say – tone. Context. These things are important. If Iron Sky had been established as a pitch-black comedy from the very start (which it easily could have been) then yes, one could argue that such things are simply natural outgrowths of the film’s morbid sense of humor. But it wasn’t, and therefore they aren’t.
I mean, seriously, there are certain scenes that could have come straight out of the Airplane movies, and then hot on their heels come much more deadpan humor, and then it’s dark, and then it’s light, and then it’s Dr Strangelove-esque, and then it’s back to wacky, and at one point a comedy-relief hillbilly out of a ‘40’s cartoon shows up, and then… AAARRGGGH! The tonal shifts! I can’t take it! The tonal shifts are driving me mad! Mad, I tell you, maad!
Ahem. Sorry. But seriously, this is the most frustrating part of the movie for me. Pick a freakin’ tone and stick with it!
So if they had done that, which one should it have been? I would have gone with straight-faced. Leaving aside the fact that that’s my preferred style anyway, the set-up is made for that sort of thing. There are certain concepts that are so absurd one can play them absolutely straight and they succeed as comedy simply through their native bizarreness. Nazis on the Moon is one of those, and the scenes that work best are the ones that treat the situation with a degree of seriousness. If the whole movie had been like that, it would have been great. Drop all the rest and just focus on the Nazis, their little Moon society, and the frantic attempts by certain people in the know to convince the world that there are Nazis on the Moon about to invade. (“It’s true! It’s true! Why won’t you listen?”) I would have enjoyed the hell out of it if it had stuck to that sort of thing, but… well, it didn’t.
‘So, give it to us straight, Deneb’, I hear you saying. ‘Don’t mealy-mouth around things. You think this movie is bad, right? Like, really, terribly bad. Never mind that confusing first sentence, it’s bad, right?’
Well (and please excuse me for a moment while I go fetch earplugs to muffle the enormous, rafter-shaking ‘WHAT?!’ sure to emanate from just about everywhere), no, actually. I don’t.
…Woo boy, that was loud.
I don’t think Iron Sky is a bad movie. I think it is an extremely frustrating movie, but I can’t in all conscience call it bad.
See, here’s the thing: the scenes I don’t like bug the living snot out of me, but the others are actually pretty good. The Moon sequences are almost uniformly good, and even in the more dubious bits, everyone is giving their all. There are no half-hearted performances in this movie – they may vary in quality, but no one is doing the ‘blah blah, where’s my paycheck?’ style of acting, and that is a blessing in and of itself.
And furthermore, I don’t want to dislike this movie. I’ll go into this in more detail in the Intermission, but suffice it to say that the way it was made was really, really cool, and is part of something that cinema buffs of all stripes should support whole-heartedly. Even if that weren’t the case, it’s a foreign film made outside the established Hollywood system that manages a close approximation of their visual style achieved at a fraction of the cost, with great enthusiasm from all involved, and in a manner that hidebound Americans like myself can appreciate. What these filmmakers have accomplished deserves a round of applause, and it makes me squirm to criticize the final product the way I have, but… yeah. The movie is flawed; there’s no way around it, but if more are produced using the same system that turn out to suit my tastes better, I for one will be dancing in the aisles.
So, while I can’t in all honesty recommend this film as a whole, I do think it’s something that people should see, at least once. Sure, you may have to cherrypick a bit, but there are certainly elements of the film that are enjoyable, and it’s well-acted and well-realized in general – and honestly, some people may have a dramatically different reaction than I did. Certainly I’ve read enough positive reviews of the thing. Maybe this is genuinely great stuff all the way through, and I’m just not getting it. I dunno – it’s possible. Make up your own mind.
And if you ever happen to notice that the Moon is blinking propaganda messages at you in Morse code, well… just ignore it. It’s probably nothing.
- The film was a Finnish-German-Australian production. It was partially produced via Wreckamovie, an online “collaborative film production platform” (as Wikipedia puts it) which helps finance and facilitate the making of movies via community effort and shared funding.
- The impetus for the story is the President’s reelection campaign, but in the context of the movie this makes no sense. It’s set in 2018, which will not be an election year – the President should be right in the middle of her term, with no campaigning to worry about until 2020.
- One of the Nazi ships has a registration code of Q-N4Z51, which stands for ‘kuunatsi’, or ‘Moon-Nazi’ in Finnish.
- How does an airlock just stop depressurizing when it’s still wide open? Airlocks do not work that way! Air does not work that way!
- Vivian Wagner is named after the Finnish comic strip ‘Vivi and Wagner’.
- Prominently located in the Oval Office are several hunting trophies, including a polar bear and a wolf. This is a clear reference to Sarah Palin’s love of hunting.
Renate: Where are we from? Siegfried?
Siegfried: The Earth!
Renate: And when did we leave? Brunhilda?
Renate: And where did we go?
Everyone: The Dark Side of the Moon!
Klaus Adler: Heil Hitler!
Kortzfleish: The name’s not Hitler!
The President: It was your bright idea to send those idiots to the Moon. Talk about disaster!
Vivian Wagner: Um, not to be the contrarian, Madame President, but I’m pretty sure it was your idea.
The President: It was my great idea had they succeeded; now it’s your stupid idea, got it?
Renate: The world is sick, and we are the doctors.
Detective: So, you are a formerly dead black model who is now suddenly a living white hobo after spending a weekend on the Moon. Is that correct?
Washington: Yes, that’s correct.
Detective: Huh – so I was listening.
Vivian Wagner: You I need, and you? I want.
The President: How was sending those two astronauts to the Moon supposed to get me reelected, exactly?
Secretary of Defense: We haven’t been to the Moon for fifty years – and one of them was black. Thought it would look good.
The President: Look good how?
Secretary of Defense: Like I said, one of them was black.
Klaus Adler: Your beauty shall adorn Odin’s table.
Washington: I’m black, but now I’m white. I went to the Dark Side of the Moon, but now I’m back. And the Nazis are coming to kill us all, and you guys are going to be so sorry that you didn’t listen to me!
Renate: Stop that; that isn’t love!
Kortzfleish: Time is the sin.
The President: You all gave me your word!
Middle-eastern delegate: But you broke yours.
The President: We always break ours; that’s just what we do!
Washington: I’m just a model.
Klaus Adler: A model what? Citizen?
Washington: No, man, a model model. Damn, what’s wrong with you two; you blind or somethin’? S***! I’m pretty.
Vivian Wagner: You never break character, do you?
Klaus Adler: No. I can never be broken.
The President: Real, live Nazis. Holy s***, this just keeps gettin’ better and better!
Klaus Adler: We will end the good times for the bad people.
Washington: You know what, you two really, really know how to f*** up a guy’s Christmas!
Random bystander: It’s Space-Naziiiiis!
Klaus Adler: Time to f*** back.
Vivian Wagner: God, Nazis are stupid.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Monarch of the Moon
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
- League of Extraordinary Gentlemen