I’m always up for action movie schlock. There’s simply just not enough of it these days. I’m also not talking about the PG-13 crap where there’s hardly any blood and nobody says any naughty words. I’m talking about real action movie schlock! Something that speaks to the primates within us all. I’m thinking of Charles Bronson mercilessly killing gang bangers without hesitation or Arnold Schwarzenegger murdering countless unnamed mercenaries. It’s a movie where the world is extremely black and white, where there is no need to think about the other side. There’s only good and bad; a good guy with a gun and a bunch of bad guys that need to die.
I think our culture has been deprived of the politically incorrect, gratuitously violent cinema we were treated to in the eighties. Times are different, I suppose. People are more sensitive and kinder to each other, and Hollywood is certainly doing less blow. It’s probably better for everyone concerned, but it can make cinema a little dull from time to time.
So then came the trailer for Polar, starring an eye patch-wearing Mads Mikkelsen. It looked like a good appetizer before John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum. I wasn’t that impressed with the trailer, but you never know. This might be just the tasty waste of time I’ve been waiting for.
Then came the herd of negative reviews, which began to worry me. Then the movie opens (supposedly) in Chile, showing some incredibly fake-looking CGI birds flying over a wooden landscape, and the movie immediately lost me.
And it got even worse after that…
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Jonas Åkerlund
Written By: Jayson Rothwell and Victor Santos (based on the graphic novel ‘Polar: It Came from the Cold’ by)
Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen), a professional assassin, has only two weeks left before retirement. Duncan has been investing an enormous sum of his income in a pension agency exclusively for assassins, run by an eccentric sadist known as Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas). The pension plan follows that if the assassin turns fifty, he will receive, depending on how much he had invested so far, a large pension sum. In the case of Duncan, he will make out for about $8 million.
Mr. Blut, however, has been devising a fiendishly simple plan to save his company some money: kill all the assassins before they turn fifty. He begins by putting out a hit on Michael Green (Johnny Knoxville) and when that’s done, then he sets his eyes on Duncan, despite constant protestations from his associate Vivian (Katheryn Winnick), who knows how dangerous he is.
Meanwhile Duncan has settled himself in the snowy landscapes of Montana, befriending a lonely local, Camille (Vanessa Hudgens). But the possibility of early retirement seems increasingly slim as Mr. Blut’s colorful herd of assassins are following Duncan’s trail.
Mads Mikkelsen is a Bad-ass
Probably the best thing about this tragic excuse of a film is the lead performance of Mads Mikkelsen as Duncan Vizla. It’s a role that could have easily been half-assed by any aging action star, but Mikkelsen fully commits to the lunacy. Physically, he does some impressive stuff, especially with his age. Though in this age of CGI trickery, who knows how much he or his stunt double did.
He even does an impressive action scene fully in the nude. In case you’re were eager to see Mads in full-frontal glory, you might see it in Polar, even though I didn’t see anything (not that I was looking).
Best of all, he gives the character necessary gravitas. You believe he’s really the bad-ass they proclaim him to be. Even though the film tries to be funny and fails at this miserably, the cases where the humor does work are mostly due to Mikkelsen, both in physical comedy or just with his droll expressions.
Besides being convincing as a middle-aged hitman, he also manages to give the character an undercurrent of emotional depth. Beneath his eyes, you see the traces of humanity he’s been pushing away in order to transform himself into the soulless killing machine. Once this humanity finally feels comfortable in showing itself, it’s actually convincing.
It’s actually quite a good character thanks to Mikkelsen. It’s only unfortunate that the movie isn’t any good…
Anybody who’s familiar with Jonas Åkerlund’s filmography or his more prolific music video work knows that he has an incredible visual eye. There’s no shortage of this in Polar, as his use of color is quite impressive. Even though the cast of characters might lack depth or characterization, their idiosyncratic fashion, which is often quite colorful, does give the viewer something to distract themselves with.
Whether or not the movie stays true to the comic’s visual palette (I certainly don’t feel compelled to read it after seeing this movie), the film’s colors schemes do make it feel like a comic book adaptation. Out of all the bad things I can say about this movie, I have to give it credit for its unique look.
The film’s frantic style, especially the quick cuts, can become rather obnoxious, however. It seems to slow down eventually but I was horribly annoyed by the first half-hour of the movie. There’s also quite a few sexualized shots of feminine curves which seems like either like a satirical gesture or a celebration of the hedonistic music video style.
Whenever the film switches to a different location, its location is revealed by some colorful letters across the scene, often accompanied by a violent sound effect. Sometimes there’s a splatter of blood smeared on the title. Perhaps this was meant to be “cool”, but it just felt tired after a while.
You would hope that Åkerlund’s style would elevate the material. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Åkerlund’s style seems to make the film feel even more hollow, like it’s trying to desperately hide its vacuous nature by its rambunctious style and striking color palette.
Even though most of the characters aren’t interesting, Åkerlund does seem fascinated by either their ugliness and beauty. He doesn’t seem to prefer either specimen. It seems like he revels in the beauty and ugliness of the scene. Something that came to incredible use with his darkly comedic junky saga Spun, where you’re pulled into the fascinating seedy world of a tweaker.
The big difference with that movie is that its style, even though it might go a little too far in places, enhances the film’s themes. The chaotic wackiness is a representation of the drugged-out minds of its characters. Unlike Polar, it had something interesting to say. It was filthy, had bouts of immature humor, but there was also emotional poignancy, especially with Mickey Rourke’s final monologue. The same could be said with Åkerlund’s Small Apartments, which includes one of my personal favorite Billy Crystal performances.
But there’s nothing like that in Polar. It’s just beauty and ugliness beaming on screen with nothing interesting for you to invest in. Åkerlund has been accused of being “style over substance” before — which I have disagreed with in the past — but when it comes to Polar, the description seems quite fitting.
Naturally, since I already had given up on the film, the action scenes didn’t really thrill me. But I do have to admit that there were a few, especially one that appears in the last 30-40 minutes or so, that quite impressed me. If the film had more of such sequences, and less of the lame-brained humor, I might have enjoyed this film more.
There’s also quite a lot of gore. Some of it is unfortunately digital, but even so, I’m happy seeing some glorious ultra-violence on the screen. It wasn’t enough to salvage this movie but if I would recommend watching a few of its action scenes on YouTube if you’re an action junky.
The worst part about this movie is how desperately it tries to be funny, especially in its vulgarity. Now, for anyone who knows me, I adore vulgar and profane humor. I dig some supremely offensive humor, but it needs to have some wit to it, something that Polar is completely deprived of.
Example: the assassins are struggling to kill an overweight individual. When one of them finally manages to shoot him, the dying overweight individual unleashes a giant fart. Yes, it’s that kind of humor. Another brilliantly funny scene shows a corpse with a giant erection. How hilarious!
The worst part is a scene of animal cruelty that is played for laughs. Granted, maybe I’m a little biased since I’m a fan of this particular animal, but it just reeks of desperation. It’s like it’s trying extremely hard to be edgy, negating the necessary wit that should come with it.
Somebody online referred to this movie like one of those dated 90’s movies, something that would come out right after Pulp Fiction. A movie that has extreme vulgarity and bouts of ultra-violence but was also cleverly written and filled with interesting characters. Movies during that time desperately tried to get that formula right and many of them were barely watchable. Polar feels like it belongs to those type of movies.
Yup, I Feel Nothing
As expected, Polar mostly manages to waste its abundance of acting talents. Having said that, Vanessa Hudgens does manage to pull of an interesting performance as the soft-spoken, introverted Camille.
But it’s just too little too late. It’s the hallmark of such movies where the bad-ass killing machines have a soft spot for someone. Their affection for this subject ultimately humanizes them. Leon had Mathilda; John Wick had his little doggy; Duncan has Camille; you get the idea. It’s their love for these subjects which also gives them an opening for salvation.
But the connection just isn’t established enough. There’s not enough scenes of them bonding. Their scenes together are some of the best parts in the film, but it seems far removed from the idiocy that surrounds them.
Oh No, They’ve Dragged Richard Dreyfuss into This…
Granted he’s only in one scene which lasts probably less than ten minutes, and he doesn’t do anything noteworthy and I’m not sure why they even cast him in such a bit part. (Perhaps he had some downtime while filming Netflix’s The Last Laugh.)
Regardless, I don’t like seeing great performers like Richard Dreyfuss wasting their valuable talent with mindless drivel like Polar. So next time, leave Dreyfuss out of this!
I wish I could say that this was an enjoyable waste of time, but it wasn’t. Director Jonas Åkerlund does bring some striking visuals to the screen and some well-choreographed action scenes — not to mention the usual charismatic performance by Mads Mikkelsen — but it’s all in service of a derivative screenplay.
The worst part is the film’s attempt at humor. I adore a good over-the-top, vulgar comedy — look at my love for The Greasy Strangler for instance — but this has the kind of humor only douche lords will appreciate.
So far, it’s the worst movie I’ve seen this year. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Polar? Comment down below!
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