I love schlock. Show me a movie with its’ brows held as low as possible and I’ll show you my entertainment for the evening. And when it comes to low brow, no brows are held lower than those of the Nazi subgenre.
Yes, that is a thing.
If you’re willing to start digging, there’s a whole dearth of trashy movies about genetically modified super Nazis, zombie Nazis, Nazis screwing and even Nazis surfing. Yes, they’re all in about as poor taste as you can imagine short of actually emerging from the tv like the chick from The Ring and farting in your dinner.
And once in a while someone takes another goodhearted, distasteful stab at it. Back in ’09 it was Arctic Nazi zombie flick Dead Snow, and this year comes the hotly anticipated (by schlock fans, anyway) Iron Sky. What’s it about? Brace yourself.
So according to the film, in 1945 Hitler sent his best and brightest to a secret base to plan a future attack. There they have waited until the year 2018, when they return with an army of advanced weaponry. Where is this base? The dark side of the moon. Yeah, not kidding. This movie’s about Moon Nazis. And yes, I watched it.
Right off the bat, this movie seems to do everything right. And when I say “right” I mean, “right for a movie about Moon Nazis”. Nazi commander played by veteran German character actor Udo Kier? Check. Dudes walking around in leather trench coats and gas masks like that dude from Hellboy? Check. Giant Nazi doom fortress shaped like a swastika? Check. The movie seems to be hitting all right notes. And again, by right I mean silly and distasteful. But I mean hey, if you’re gonna make a movie this silly you need to go whole hog, amirite?
But then the film makes a misstep. A rather serious one, that causes the rollercoaster to occasionally grind to a halt, banging the faces of all aboard into that metal bar they hold you down with, sending out a spray of blood and teeth.
The movie tries to make a point.
Yes, I’m not kidding, the movie about Nazis in flying saucers from the dark side of the moon tries to have a serious message. Several, in fact. Now, I’ll be the first to argue that you can have a serious subtext/message in just about anything. But in the case of Iron Sky, this is problematic for two reasons.
Firstly, the film can’t decide what message it wants to have, or how it wants to make it. For starters, the movie hates Americans. It seems to lampoon America and American culture more than it does the Nazis, and again, it can’t really decide what how it wants to do it. There’s this one incredibly brief plot point where a pair of Moon Nazis who have landed on Earth start working with the American president (who’s totally Sarah Palin, but they don’t name her outright) and start running her re-election campaign, to massive success. Right there is a pretty nasty burn on the Yanks, but the plot point disappears before anything can be done with it besides just say “Hey look, Americans are totally like Nazis, yo!”
Then there’s the black guy they turn white. Again, not kidding. At the beginning of the movie, the Moon Nazis capture the very first African-American astronaut and, through a process they call “Aryanizing”, basically pull a Wayans Brothers on him and turn him white. Why? Fucked if I know, man. For most of the movie he’s just sort of….there. They only really “use it” for one or two (unfunny and predictable) gags. Is it there to make some kind of social point, maybe lead to some interesting character growth? Possibly, but if that was the intent, it disappears when the movie seems to just get bored with the poor fellow, all but casting him aside like a capricious child with an old toy.
And there’s our main character, Renate, a Moon Nazi who comes to Earth and slowly learns that she’s been fooled about what her people actually stand for. This is probably the closest the movie comes to having a coherent or interesting point, and it is a good one. It’s important to remember that for every Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering or Adolph Hitler, there were probably just as many, if not more, poor saps who had been brainwashed by the propaganda machine and really honestly believed what they were doing was morally right. Of course, it doesn’t excuse their actions, but it is still worth while to remember that not all Nazis were the demonic caricatures post-war fiction has made them out to be. It’s a gutsy point to make, and one I do have to applaud.
And it’s totally unwelcome.
That’s point number two. Quite frankly, you don’t make a movie about Moon Nazis invading the Earth to make a point! Points are for movies that don’t have Moon Nazis! Now again, that’s not to say that there’s no room for a bit of satire in here, but the trick in a movie like this is to not let the satire get in the way of the fun. Which this movie kind of does.
Once in a while the fun and silliness stops so the movie can flail around, trying desperately to make some kind of point or statement, and its attempts couldn’t be more all-over-the-map if they’d sprayed it on the map with a fire hose.
The movie seems to try and have its’ cake and eat it too, attempting to balance schlocky, campy fun with heavy-handed social and political message-mongering. Perhaps if they’d actually managed this precarious balancing acting it wouldn’t have been so bad, but I’d have much rather they hadn’t attempted it at all and just focus on delivering the initial promise of exploitative camp. What should have been a simple, low-brow, Mars Attacks! style popcorn flick turns into a mess of vain attempts at a deeper meaning, in spite of our pleas to leave deeper meanings to the “serious” movies and just give is our schlock back.