Hey kids, do you remember Sarah Palin?
What feels like centuries ago, in the years bordering 2010, the former Alaska governor became something of a firebrand when she ran with John McCain’s doomed 2008 presidential bid. The thought of this under-qualified politician decrying the lamestream media for its gotcha journalism making her way into the White House seemed so absurd and ridiculous at the time, a complete farce that could never come true. She was a natural source of parody, and when she decided to run as president herself in 2012 a little sci-fi/comedy called Iron Sky naturally put her in the oval office (with a southern accent for some reason). Now, here we are almost a decade later, and everything is different in the world outside of Iron Sky.
Palin never stopped being the president in this universe, however, and that kind of sucks. Jokes that cast her as the American President in 2019 don’t land so well, anymore. A lot of time has passed, a lot of the world has changed, and I’m not sure Iron Sky: The Coming Race has changed enough to keep up.
Iron Sky: The Coming Race
Director: Timo Vuorensola
Release Date: July 19, 2019 (Limited, VOD)
The Coming Race sees the Iron Sky story taken 20 years into the future with daughter of James Washington and Renate Richter, Obi (Lara Rossi) trying to hold together the last stronghold for humanity--a dilapidated former Nazi moon base. She gives a stern monologue about the state of humanity while running a gauntlet of shutting doors and obstacles through the base in order to rescue a refugee ship using a crane, in what I can only assume is a set piece that exists just to scream “Look how big our budget is, now!” And boy howdy, it sure is big.
The ships look great. the crane coming down to grab the refugee ship as it tumbles off a crumbling platform is dynamic and dramatic. There are few points in The Coming Race where the look doesn’t match the 20-ish million pumped into the project. The original Iron Sky was no slouch when it came to good-looking space combat, either, but the sequel is certainly bigger and better visually in every single way. With this serious money, however, comes a more serious start with a sloppy setup serving as an excuse for a grand adventure.
The opening of The Coming Race lacks an early stinger like the first shot of a giant metal swastika built into the dark side of the moon. Gone is that cheesy B-movie vibe, replaced with something that feels very much like a standard sci-fi adventure.
Late-fuhrer Wolfgang Kortzfleish (Udo Kier) returns to the moon base, very much still alive and also now a lizard-person apparently. Also, he wants to help Obi, her mother, and her people by retrieving the holy grail made from a substance more powerful than anything else in the universe--which happens to be within the prehistoric center of the hollow Earth. Wolfgang forgoes any mentions of Aryans or Obi’s own race, and instead refers to everyone as mere “humans,” which makes him an entirely different character than he was in Iron Sky. Sure, there are ways to rationalize his change in personality, but it still feels like a sloppy excuse to shove a map in Obi’s arms, rattle off a Scientology-tinged reimagining of the story of Adam and Eve, and send her hurtling through space with a loud-mouthed Russian and a very attractive bearded bald man (much like myself) toward the hollow Earth.
The non-satire jokes are all the sort of easy slapstick you’ve seen elsewhere. The bald dude also turns out to be super dumb (much like myself), peeling off the squares on a Rubik’s Cube and replacing them to make the colors match. The Russian guy, though being scrawny, always needs to assert his masculinity. None of these jokes are especially clever or fun, but the performers all offer enough charm to keep cringes to a minimum.
The satire itself, unfortunately, doesn’t hold up much better. For some reason The Coming Race decided to focus its attention very much on the tech industry with a Steve Jobs cult seeking the perfect closed system and a reference to lizard-person Mark Zuckerberg keeping the world too distracted with social media to see the underground reptilian army’s plan to eradicate all human life from the planet and take Earth over for themselves. Gags about jailbroken iPhones don’t hold up, and all of the recent focus on Facebook as a platform of extremism and hate doesn’t make the “you kept them blindsided with cat videos, Zuck” joke land very well.
Maybe that’s why we don’t see many big budget films with a cultural parody bent very often--they’re bound to be outdated by the time they release. In 2012, Sarah Palin as president was improbable and amusing. Now, it seems quaint and maybe even preferred. When the humor sticks to historical figures and just the sheer ridiculousness of its conspiracy theory-based concept, it works much better. Seeing Pope Urban II shout “Holy shit!” as he tumbles from dinosaur-drawn chariot into a river of raging lava below? Fun. Seeing a lizard-man Hitler stand at the center of a recreation of The Last Supper? A little tired but still amusing. The original Iron Sky’s central gag was, “Boy, Nazis sure are dumb!” And they sure are dumb! Nazis are an evergreen punching bag. The Coming Race would have done well to have stuck to the original’s conceit more rather than cram the film with cultural references with the shelf-life of bananas.
That said, this does have a climax that’s out of this world (it takes place on the moon) with Hitler smashing into the former Nazi moon base riding a T-Rex and shouting, “Sieg heil, mother fuckers!” That’s the sort of ultra-ridiculous imagery that I was hoping to get from The Coming Race, and in the third act it doesn’t disappoint. This sequence also contains the second time someone jump kicks a dinosaur that I’ve seen on film, and The Coming Race certainly delivers a much more riotous impact here. No matter what, it has the best dinosaur jump kick, and that’s something to be proud of.
The last handful of minutes return us to tired humor and mundane plot points before setting up a sequel, and though I am curious to see what the Iron Sky team will come up with next, I hope they leave current events out of the script.