Movies rarely get off to a better start than the first five minutes of Iron Sky. The Finnish-German-Australian sci-fi satire opens in the year 2018, with two American astronauts landing on the moon. They unfurl a banner hailing the current president—an image-obsessed, Sarah Palin-esque dimbulb played by Stephanie Paul—then make their way over to the dark side, where one of the astronauts is immediately shot in the head. Then the other astronaut, Christopher Kirby, gets captured and taken to a massive underground fortress shaped like a swastika. There he learns that in 1945, a committed group of Nazis launched a secret moon mission, building their own colony and armory while preparing to return someday to take over Earth. Invasion of the Nazi moon men? Awesome über alles! But, alas: The rest of the movie happens.
The first sign of trouble is the Palin gag. Iron Sky has an outsider’s perspective on American popular and political culture, and writer-director Timo Vuorensola (who previously helmed one of the beloved-on-the-Internet “Star Wreck” films) doesn’t have that deft a touch when it comes to social commentary. The cleverest Iron Sky gets is when two of the moon-Nazis—ambitious commander Götz Otto and his sweet-natured fiancée Julia Dietze—come to Earth and get involved with Paul’s presidential campaign, helping her win the hearts and minds of the American people with Goebbels-esque propaganda tactics. But the movie loses any edge it picks up with that joke with the character of Kirby, a model drafted to be an astronaut just for the inspiring visual of a black man on the moon. That’s the kind of satire that might’ve been cutting 40 years ago, but now just comes off as insultingly racist, especially since Kirby’s dialogue leans toward lines like, “I love me some sauerkraut,” and, “Ancient history, homey.”
There are moments of brightness throughout Iron Sky—such as a scene where Dietze teaches the young moon-Nazis about the Reich by showing the state-approved 10-minute version of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator—and there’s some wit to the way the bad guys are technically advanced for the ’40s, yet awestruck by 21st-century staples like cell phones. But Vuorensola is never able to recapture the momentum of his opening, even with the imaginative designs, the accomplished special effects, and the ambitious, full-scale climactic invasion. Had Iron Sky remained a breezy bit of alternate-history with space-blimps, it could’ve been a real treat. But by the time Paul stands in front of a UN council populated by crude stereotypes, the movie’s what-the-hell bravado has long since soured.
Key features: A jovially geeky commentary track by Vuorensola and producer/effects maven Samuli Torssonen (the mastermind behind “Star Wreck”), plus multiple behind-the-scenes featurettes about what went on during the nearly five years it took to make Iron Sky.