Iron Sky wastes little time on exposition. Set in the year 2018, Iron Sky opens as US astronauts land on the moon and discover a massive settlement built and inhabited by Nazis. One of the astronauts, James Washington (Christopher Kirby), is taken prisoner and learns of an impending plot to invade and conquer Earth. The adventure that ensues centers on Astronaut Washington’s efforts to thwart the evil plans.
Overall, Iron Sky is an entertaining and mostly light-hearted sci-fi confection. The use of Nazis carries obvious pernicious associations, but Iron Sky lifts the rule from video games where Nazis are shorthand for bad guys. The film is an un-self-conscious send-up of space adventure movies, a parody that seems to originate from a similar place of genre-film admiration that inspired Simon Pegg’s spoofs Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
Iron Sky contains obvious references to Star Wars and Star Trek, but director Timo Vuorensola also inserts references to James Bond and to Dr. Strangelove; he stages a United Nations council that, except for the absence of folk costumes, could be the same UN assembly from Austin Powers; he even uses Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator as an important plot element. There are some broad jabs, but Vuorensola employs a Mel Brooks-style approach of equal-opportunity lampooning, where even the director’s fellow Finns receive a playful nudge.
Strong characters propel the narrative. Kirby, who has appeared in such sci-fi action flicks as The Matrix Reloaded and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, is convincing and endearing as the accidental action hero who is committed to stopping the sinister invasion. The primary antagonist, Klaus Adler (Götz Otto, Downfall), bristles as the Machiavellian monster who wants to take over the world. Hard-working actor Udo Kier is the moonbase’s fuehrer, whose predilection for Wurther’s Originals slightly undermines his menacing authority.
Julia Dietze plays a moonbase inhabitant who begins to question the mores that surround her. Stephanie Paul plays the President of the United States but is otherwise unnamed — although she bears a striking resemblance to former U.S. Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. Peta Sergeant, a veteran of Australian TV, plays the President’s intensely driven re-election campaign manager, Vivian Wagner. And Michael Cullen, as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, evokes the late John Spencer’s portrayal of Chief of Staff Leo McGarry from NBC’s The West Wing.
Like any good sci-fi, the message of the film lies in the themes it explores outside its outward content; Iron Sky takes a hard look at human nature and at judging others on their outward appearances. While certain characters’ motivations are clear throughout, other characters’ true colors are revealed as knowledge, temptations or opportunities sway them.
The design of Iron Sky, led by art director Jussi Lehtiniemi and visual effects supervisor Samuli Torssonen, is commendable for its vast inventiveness and level of detail. The moonbase is almost steampunk in appearance, and the spaceships of Iron Sky range from metal-plated zeppelins to George Lucas-inspired gunships with innovative fuselages, impressive propulsion and multiple laser armaments.
Iron Sky is far from flawless. Some of the dialogue is clunky, such as when space invader Klaus Adler says, “the United States of the Americas”, even though his second-language English is otherwise beyond reproach; when campaign manager Vivian Wagner (Sergeant) shoe-horns swear words into unnatural spots; or when hero James Washington lays on a bit too much slang, as in “Y’all be trippin’ or something.” The middle third of a film seems to drag as the motivations of some Earth-bound characters are established. And a cultural reference falls very wide of its mark when a resident of upstate New York — not too far upstate, mind, given the Manhattan skyline is clearly visible on the horizon — is depicted as a hillbilly caricature with a straw hat, overalls and a Southern US accent.
One of the most interesting aspects of Iron Sky is that the story behind the film nearly upstages the film itself. To secure the necessary funds to make Iron Sky, Vuorensola and his team turned to the Internet. The end credits acknowledge the film was “made in creative collaboration online with the Iron Sky community,” and a number of fan investors are credited by name.
Perhaps the Iron Sky disc’s well-produced “making-of” featurette and generous behind-the-scenes clips are a thank-you of sorts to the many funders of the film, giving them all a look at the resulting production that took place in Finland, Germany and Australia.
Whatever the story resolution or artistic merit of Iron Sky, one aspect of the film is clear: It’s a personal triumph for the film’s producers and all those who chipped in to make it happen.