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Released: 25th January 2019 (Netflix)
Length: 119 Minutes
Director: Jonas Åkerlund
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Vanessa Hudgens, Katheryn Winnick, Matt Lucas, Josh Cruddas, Ruby O'Fee and Anthony Grant
Netflix’s Polar seems nifty at first glance; take the versatile Mads Mikkelsen and put him in a thriller similar to the likes of Liam Neeson action films. What should be an engaging addition, ends up being a large mess.
The film follows retired hitman Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen), also known as the Black Kaiser, as he finds himself being hunted by his former employer Mr Blut (Matt Lucas). Kaiser sets out for revenge, while also building a bond with the shy local resident Camille (Vanessa Hudgens). Polar may be based on a 2012 Dark Horse graphic novel, but it nevertheless borrows liberally from John Wick; the assassin who’s forced back into the game, a dog serving as his companion (albeit briefly in this film) and a collection of other hitmen who have their own methods. Where Polar attempts to be different is in its style and tone; the film features a bright visual aesthetic while being jam-packed with violence and sex. It’s a trashy approach well-suited to B-movie territory, but Polar doesn’t fully embrace this genre and as a result, just about everything in the plot falls completely flat. The pacing is too frantic, and the film throws gratuitous bloodshed at us one moment, then tries to be more serious the next, all without giving any kind of development or background context to its story and characters. Everything in Polar feels choppy and basic; at worst, its exploitative elements veer over the lines of bad taste.
The characters of Polar are just as lazy as the story, offering little besides gimmicky behaviours that quickly blend together in a disappointingly weak effort. While Mads Mikkselsen and Vanessa Hudgens are competent; the two actors do what they can but when the script delivers no opportunities for character development, it leaves an empty feeling. Everyone else is either basic or borderline cartoonish. The other assassins are given no backstory and Matt Lucas in particular is ridiculously over-the-top as the villain, he really sticks out when the film tries to be more serious. Other characters are essentially useless, drafted in for a single scene then tossed aside; Richard Dreyfuss and Ayisha Issa are the most glaring examples. The film simply doesn’t care about characterisation and this makes its efforts to engage feel even more limp.
While Polar does pop with colour, most notably in a collection of blurry flashback sequences, the film is far from well-produced. The centre of the problem is the woolly editing; whether it’s a hand-to-hand fight scene or just a standard sequence, the film cuts far too frequently; almost as if the camera is reluctant to hang on one shot for too long. In a bid to make the film seem fast-moving, it only makes things more hackneyed. Outside of this, things are merely ok. The practical blood effects look nasty but without any context, their inclusion feels more juvenile than useful. The soundtrack by DeadMau5 brings a techno twist to the proceedings and while it does complement the aesthetics, it rarely improves the action scenes. Speaking of which, the action of Polar isn’t going to set the world on fire, though one sequence down a grotty corridor and another involving remote-control turrets are, despite the editing, capably entertaining. It really doesn’t make up for cartoonish characters and rotten storytelling.
Aside from some passable performances and the occasionally inventive action scene, Polar is baffling in how it takes a great premise and utterly butchers it; you see Mads Mikkelsen on the front and believe it’s another rugged and gritty action thriller. Don’t be fooled; it’s a sleazy, ugly film that has no business being in the neo-noir genre and you should avoid it like the plague.
Rating: 1.5/5 Stars (Bad)