VOD Review: Polar.
Mads Mikkelsen is wasted in a fatuous assassin flick based on much worthier source material. That makes me Mads!
Where to begin with the train wreck that is Polar? Polar adapts a stylish noir webcomic by Victor Santos, but completely cocks-up the tone and aesthetic. It takes heavily from gritty modern action films like John Wick and Atomic Blonde, while failing to create the sense of gravity those films needed to sell their spectacular action sequences. It wastes Mads Mikkelsen’s talents almost entirely; moments seem to hint that the director watched some of his work on Hannibal and tried to swipe them as well. It is filled with mindless sex and violence, supposing itself to be edgy and cool instead of vulgar and juvenile. Like some knock-off Rumpelstiltskin, Polar takes a mountain of gold and spins it into two unbearable hours of straw.
Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen), also known as The Black Kaiser, is the foremost hitman for the secret organization known as Damocles. Old and weary from the horrors he’s seen and committed, he opts to retire to a secluded mountain town in the frigid north. There he sets down roots and eventually begins a relationship with a haunted younger woman named Camille (Vanessa Hudgens). When Damocles reckons it could save more money by killing Duncan than retiring him, they send a squad of killers after him. Forced to kill once again, Duncan takes the fight to his former employer.
Source of Frustration.
Victor Santos’ webcomic Polar: Came from the Cold and it’s sequels are tight little packages of bloody noir storytelling. There’s no dialogue or text. Everything we learn we glean from watching The Black Kaiser work. The spartan way in which the narrative unfolds tells us a lot about our protagonist. He’s efficient, brutal, and weary. He rarely smiles and he doesn’t waste time on sentimentality. His gun does his talking for him.
Director Jonas Akerlund’s version is the, ahem, polar opposite. There is dialogue aplenty, much of it overheated and desperate to be cool and dramatic. The action doesn’t proceed with brutal efficiency, but feels like a choreographed routine where the dancers don’t have their heart in it. Where the comic treats sex and violence with the jaundiced eye of someone who uses both as tools in his arsenal, Akerlund is positively gleeful in throwing blood and tits at the camera. I can’t see how the two properties are related beyond the coincidence of a shared name. Maybe Akerlund didn’t read it. He certainly didn’t get it.
Netflix’ Polar is a vulgar exercise in juvenile power fantasy. A 13 year old boy could hardly write a film treatment with more gratuitous and inelegant material. The squad of killers sent after Duncan feel like they were recruited straight off of a 4Chan thread. They’re demented miscreants, ordered around by a boss (Matt Lucas) who is a prissy, idiotic sadist. Camille is a doe-eyed damsel whose tragic backstory is clichéd and uninteresting. When she finally reveals what we could see coming from a mile away, she does so in such a fountain of bathos that I kept fighting the urge to tell her to shut up. Most characters’ dialogue in this film made me want to box their ears while demanding they shut the hell up. They’re such asinine caricatures that I couldn’t give a fig about their dramatic pretensions and motivations.
Mads Mikkelsen’s default demeanor gives the air that he’s too good for wherever he happens to be. It’s probably not intentional, just how he holds himself, his accent, and the hooded look his eyes naturally have. Here, he really is too good for where he happens to be. He’s tasked with trying to give dramatic gravity to a character cobbled together from movie hit man stereotypes, while also delivering sexy appeal and swagger to tepid action. He does what he can with the material.
That’s Not How Action Works.
The biggest sin of Polar is that it has completely forgettable action. It thinks it has fantastic action, but it has cribbed too many scenes and tropes to be novel, and its preening “ain’t I cool!” attitude makes what is on display annoying. Action movies strain credulity by definition, but they usually pay off that suspension of disbelief. Polar can’t cash the checks it’s writing. There’s so much that is shoddy and ill conceived.
Thugs run willingly into Mads’ bullets, apparently forgetting that they don’t need to be in kissing distance to fire their fucking guns. The baddies always opt to taunt Duncan instead of press their advantage, and wind up getting the Bond villain treatment for spiking the ball on the five yard line. Can anyone explain to me why 20 guys with machine guns have to walk right up to an unarmed target with an active kill order INSTEAD OF JUST SHOOTING HIM? Oh, right, so we could get that “cool” scene where he mows them all down.
The film attempts to cash in on Mads notoriety by dabbling in Hannibal-esque torture porn and trippy visuals. Matt Lucas feels like a discount version of Mason Verger from Hannibal in his performance. It has no shock value or weight because the film doesn’t understand how to build stakes. If you slice a guy up and leave him hanging for a day, you’re going to come back to a dead guy in any halfway realistic world. Here, you just get some red paint on Mads’ chest and a tidy little pool of blood. Mads gets drugged, stabbed, shot twice, and tortured for days and is up and walking with a mild limp the next day. It’s a farce.
Polar is a lousy film. It does absolutely nothing new or interesting with its material. I had to force myself to sit through the second hour of this film (making this two hour film exactly two hours too long.) You know early on that this film is not going anywhere interesting, has a tenuous grip on the source material, and thinks it is being incredibly clever by reheating leftovers sandwiched between gratuitous nudity and violence. I even hated the soundtrack. Yeah, Deadmau5, I fucking see you there, blatantly tugging on Trent Reznor’s pant legs.
I guess Polar may have the slightest redeeming value: upon meeting somebody new, ask them if they liked watching Polar. If they say yes, lock the fucking door and never talk to them again.