2012’s Iron Sky was an intentionally funny B-movie, lambasting science fiction tropes with the same gusto as Spaceballs or Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The film failed to find the cult status it deserves, but it built a following just big and enthusiastic enough to crowdfund a sequel. The result is Iron Sky: The Coming Race, which arrives in theaters and on-demand services on Friday, July 19th.
The original Iron Sky was set in an imagined version of 2018 where astronauts, sent to the dark side of the moon by an unnamed US president bearing a striking resemblance to Sarah Palin (Stephanie Paul), discover Nazis have been hiding there since the end of World War II. What follows is a mashup of Independence Day, Wag the Dog, and Star Wars, where the president uses the Nazis to bolster her reelection campaign. Eventually, all Earth’s nations fight off the lunar threat together, in a feel-good team-up. But the alliance immediately devolves into chaos, as they turn on each other to fight over the Nazis’ supply of a rare energy source, triggering global nuclear war.
The Coming Race picks up in the immediate aftermath of that war, with a riff on a James Bond movie theme showing the president being evacuated to the Arctic, as Vladimir Putin strips off his shirt for an acrobatic martial-arts / dance routine set to a jaunty tune promising the end of humanity. As it turns out, both world leaders are lizard-people.
The film was inspired by the 1871 novel The Coming Race, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who famously inspired a long-running contest for deliberately terrible writing. The new Iron Sky film posits that the Earth is hollow and home to the Vril, a race of shapeshifting immortal aliens who have been living in the planet’s core since the time of the dinosaurs. They adopted scales to communicate with the locals and apparently kept that as their default state, when they aren’t meddling with human evolution or having proxy conflicts with each other by assuming the roles of prominent human leaders. Now that their human playthings have ruined the sport by making Earth largely uninhabitable, the Vril are left sulking in their favorite historical forms, which include Genghis Khan and Margaret Thatcher.
These absurd exposition dumps largely come from by Udo Kier, playing former Moon Nazi leader Wolfgang Kortzfleisch and his twin brother Adolf Hitler, both of whom are Vril. After the intro, the film fast forwards to the year 2047, where the remnants of humanity eke out a modest life in the remnants of the Moon base. Kortzfleisch sneaks back onto the Moon on a spaceship jury-rigged by Russian engineer Sasha (Vladimir Burlakov) and urges Obi Washington (Lara Rossi), the daughter of the first film’s protagonists, to journey to the center of the Earth. There, she can steal the Holy Grail from the Vril to save the human race — and more specifically, her mother Renate (Julia Dietze), who’s dying of some sort of unspecified plot disease.
The deeply convoluted storyline provides plenty of opportunities for spectacle. The special effects have been significantly improved since the original’s ugly moonscapes, allowing for goofiness like Hitler launching an attack from the back of a Tyrannosaurus rex, and a chase scene where Obi, Sasha, and Obi’s brawny and extremely good-natured soldier buddy Malcolm (Kit Dale) ride chariots pulled by triceratops. The Vril are apparently pretty nostalgic for their earliest days on Earth, and have given their city a decidedly Flintstones-inspired aesthetic.
But having so much going on keeps the writers from giving any one aspect of the story the time it deserves. Sasha and Obi have some genuinely charming banter as they debate which science fiction dystopia is worse: Sasha’s Mad Max-style irradiated Earth, or Obi’s resource-scarce Moon base, which harkens back to The Expanse or Battlestar Galactica. But with the dinosaurs and aliens taking up most of the film’s 90 minutes, that doesn’t leave enough space to explore either setting, in order to properly settle their argument.
Also largely missing is Iron Sky’s dark political comedy, which centered around the disturbingly prescient plot point of a US president unapologetically delivering Nazi propaganda in front of cheering crowds. Scarcity-based science fiction is often used to comment on late-stage capitalism, but aside from the Moon base being reshaped from a swastika to a dollar sign, The Coming Race is silent on the matter. The one powerful political jab comes early in the film, when Renate initially tries to send Sasha and his ship full of refugees away, but is overruled, with her people agreeing to give them shelter, food, and blankets. They may be former Nazis, but they’re not monsters.
There’s a great gag late in the movie spoofing the absurdity of love triangles and the bury-your-gays trope, but the parody is also softer here. Too much of the comedic space is devoted to following a cult of Steve Jobs worshippers that’s set up a shrine on the Moon, reminiscent of an Apple store, where they preach the values of a “closed system.” The writers probably felt they had to lampoon Apple after the computing power of iPhones served as a major plot point in Iron Sky, but the jokes already feel dated.
Kier does admirable work with his high-camp performances, but they’re still lacking compared to Iron Sky’s Peta Sergeant, who previously channeled Hitler in a remake of the Downfall meme where she verbally eviscerated her staff as the president’s campaign adviser. This time, the character who most embodies the spirit of the movie is Malcolm, who tags along for the dinosaur adventure, but leaves behind his power armor in favor of his lucky shirt, because he doesn’t want to get in trouble for taking the equipment off base. Even in the thick of things, he can’t seem to take the film’s premise seriously.
Like the original Iron Sky, The Coming Race has a dramatic ending that sets up the potential for another science-fiction-trope-packed sequel. While The Coming Race might not sell the need for this absurd series to continue, it at least provides a reason to go back and watch the original, and help its creators get the money they need to try to recapture their uniquely bizarre form of movie magic.