Iron Sky and the Jokeless Comedy

Iron SkyThe setup sounded too perfect: at the end of World War II, the Nazis relocated to the far side of moon, developing their war machinery for a future invasion of earth. Add in a hot German school teacher who thinks that The Great Dictator is a laudatory 10-minute short about Adolf Hitler, and an African American astronaut who the Germans “improve” by changing his skin tone white, and you have the makings of comedy genius. It even features Udo Kier as the current Führer, and as everyone who knows anything about film knows: no film with Kier can be all bad. But the question remains: how did Iron Sky, a comedy about Nazis on the moon, not elicit one laugh from me?

The film is not bad. It looks good. Julia Dietze and Christopher Kirby as the protagonists really do light up the screen when they are together. And there are amusing moments. I especially liked when the US president (a very awkward parody of Sarah Palin) found out that all the other countries had lied about not putting weapons in space. She said, “You’re all liars, just like my ex-ex-husband!” When they complain, noting that the US also broke its word, she responds, “We always breaks ours, that’s just what we do.” Also: Finland is the only country that stood by the treaty. It truly is the country where I want to be!

But all of that material is the exception in being modestly sharp satire. Overall, the satire is incredibly blunt, because the writers clearly don’t care much about geopolitics. All the major powers in the film are narcissistic and so much more the silly for it. The president is thrilled that her assistant has started a war because all presidents who start wars in their first terms get re-elected. I’m not saying that there aren’t some politicians who are every bit this self-serving. (Most are far more self-deluded.) But as a target for satire, it would have been tired in 1812, much less 2012.

The bigger problem is that the film doesn’t really even try to be funny. The filmmakers seem to think that the concept is so great that it creates its own laughs. And that might have been the case if the film took the time to get the viewer vested in the concept. But it doesn’t. It is just: Nazis on the moon. They’ve created all kinds of new war technology, but they still drive around in cars from Hogan’s Heroes and have computers the size of small towns. Oh, and they have to go to earth to get a cell phone, because they can’t possibly figure out who to charge the one they have.

In addition, there are far too many special effects in the film. They are well done, of course. But who cares? It’s just filler. The whole film could be easily rewritten as a play. There is a great battle between the earth and the moon Nazis. Yet we are only introduced to the people in one of the spaceships. So it serves no narrative function. There is more than enough hand-to-hand combat that does. So what is the point of all this other than to make Iron Sky look like a “real” film? I doubt there is another reason.

And then what are we are supposed to take away from Iron Sky? I guess it is that the Nazis were bad, but that the rest of the world isn’t all that great either. And the future of humanity is the Nazis, but only after they’ve seen all eleven reels of The Great Dictator, because once the Führer has been mocked, well, those Nazis just melt. But that’s all giving the filmmakers a good too much credit. I don’t think they want the viewer to take anything away from this film. And that is a real problem when you are creating satire.

Ultimately, it all would have been fine if there had been some jokes.

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