I was hoping the trashy and cringe-worthy opening to Jonas Åkerlund’s “Polar” was an exception – a simple case of a movie getting off on the wrong foot. Turns out it’s more prophecy than anomaly. It serves as a good indicator (and warning sign) of what to expect from this objectionable and utterly frustrating Netflix Original.
For much of its two-hour running time “Polar” feels like two separate movies in one. The first follows an absurd motley crew of killers as they travel across the country looking for hyper-stylized ways to murder people for Åkerlund’s camera. It’s quite vulgar and off-putting. The second focuses on a retiring assassin Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen) as he takes to a new life off the grid. He moves into a remote mountain cabin in Montana where he befriends a quiet young neighbor Camille (Vanessa Hudgens).
These quieter moments with Duncan are promising and offer a good setup to the violence we know is on the way. Unfortunately whenever the above storylines cross paths Åkerlund ramps up the excess to ludicrous levels. He seems to operate under the mantra of ‘the bloodier and smuttier the better’ as long as you soak it all in blinding bright colors and use plenty a crafty camera angles.
Not that it matters, but the merry band of sadistic killers work for Duncan’s former boss, the embarrassingly bad antagonist Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas). He’s one of those pathetically weak and painfully dumb crime bosses who are nearly impossible to buy into. You can’t help but wonder why his many powerful male and female laptogs follow his orders like lemmings. But I digress.
Mr. Blut wants Duncan dead so that he doesn’t have to pay the $8 million of contractually obligated retirement money. But even the dopiest crime boss should know you don’t double-cross your top assassin, especially when his nickname is “The Black Kaiser” and he’s played by Mads Mikkelsen. Katheryn Winnick plays Blut’s right-hand woman (I think) and the only person with sense enough to know that turning on Duncan is probably a bad idea.
Sadly the blaring, obnoxious part with its ramped up violence and its unabashed scuzziness smothers out the more observational and introspective part. We’re left with a movie that seems to relish the mindless bloodshed, gratuitous sex, and glaring objectification. It’s sold out on looking cool and blinding us with its ‘style’ but doesn’t consider its story or its characters. It’s a shame because Åkerlund delivers some jaw-dropping images and he casts a great lead. But Mikkelsen is too good of an actor for this. He could easily shine in this kind of role, but this relentless mess is a complete waste of his talents.
VERDICT – 1.5 STARS
Your post got me wondering about films that start badly but actually end up ok.
I was hoping this one would be one of those cases. Unfortunately….
I love Mads and can’t believe he fell in with this slop. It has a pretty great look at times, but other than that I was utterly frustrated with the whole thing.
I’m watching it now and well as I’m commenting on your review, I think you know how this is playing out. The film is garish and disgusting in its attempts to be cool. It’s like a crappy John Wick and I’m not a huge fan of John Wick but at least that film is fun.
I like that comparison. It does resemble a vulgar John Wick minus any of the elements that make John Wick fun. I’m not sure how far into it you are, but it doesn’t get much better.
I was at the scene where they were killing the really obese guy in Austin while looking for Duncan. I can’t believe they end it on a potential sequel hook and I’m a little upset that for as garbage pitty as it is, there actualy is a cool conceptual idea behind the relationship between Duncan and Camille.
Yes! There is something interesting between those two but the movie squanders it. I was thinking that aside from Duncan Camille is the only remotely interesting character in the movie.
I saw this one the other day, and I also didn’t like it all. Mikkelson was really the only bright spot in a movie that was mean-spirited and…..BORING. I saw mean-spirited because the violence is brutally over-the-top, as if the director was trying to channel Quentin Tarantino but failing at every turn. There’s also the unnecessary moment when Duncan accidentally shoots his newly bought dog. Some people MAY think that’s funny. I sure as hell didn’t. Yeah, I spoiled that part, but I don’t care. I love me some ultra-violence, but it has to have a purpose and the violence in Polar didn’t have a purpose. It feels as if the film was driven by its violence and not its story, which was boring anyway. There is some stuff that I actually like. Some of the action was pretty good. The tunnel fight sequence was pretty good. I’ve been reading up on the original comic that the film is based on, and it seems that Akerland managed to get everything wrong. From the visual aesthetic to the dialogue, it’s like Akerland just flat-out ignored what the comic was trying to go for. This is what happens when a director doesn’t respect the source material. Every. Single. Time.
The dog scene was idiotic – pointless and not remotely funny. And I’m like you, I can get into ultra-violence if there is a point. This was gratuitous in ever sense of the word. Same with the overabundance of sex and nudity. It seemed so deliberate and pointless. This whole thing was a picture of a filmmaker so absorbed in his definition or cool, stylish, and edgy. I think it fails to be any of those things.
Oh, and did you see the trailer? It looked really cool but the movie is nothing like it.
The trailer was cool, the movie was not. Don’t get me started on that damn ending, though. Whatever goodwill that the film may have earned with me was thrown out the window with that disastrous ending. If it ended a little bit sooner, the film may have been somewhat salvageable. But no, the director and writer butchered that one too. What really burns my biscuit is reading the comments on youtube about the film saying its as good as John Wick. Did they not see the same movie we did? Because Polar doesn’t come anywhere close to what John Wick was. That being said, the one objectively good thing about Polar is that it’s going to make me appreciate John Wick 3 even more.
As good as John Wick?!?!?!? I believe in subjectivity when it comes to movie opinions/criticism but seriously? Those movies couldn’t be more different!
ooof, too bad that opening proves to be more the rule than the exception. Don’t know if I will bother to check this out. Isn’t Mads in another film, maybe its more of a survivalist thriller than this oh-so-boring revenge thriller — called Arctic, I think?
‘Trashy’ is the best way I know to describe “Polar”. I didn’t find it remotely appealing. I’m honestly stunned that Mads attaches his name to it. He does indeed have a very compelling survival movie coming. I was hoping it opened in my area this weekend but it’s a limited release. It is called “Arctic”. But “Polar”….don’t bother!
So I have just made the mistake of watching this, despite all warnings (this one included).
One of the worst movies I personally have ever had the displeasure of sitting through. I seriously have no idea how Mads Mikkelsen can stand behind this thing. Fortunately it was a Netflix original so I’m assuming no major press tour. So he didn’t have to go around being all faux-supportive of this mess.
This is so beneath his talent. The real shame of it is that he could play this role really well. But this is such garbage material. The first scene lets you know it’s going to be a long ordeal.
I keep seeing this on Netflix and I have a morbid curiosity to see it even though I predict a shitshow
The trailer completely won me over. It was cool and action-picked. The movie doesn’t feel like the same one from the trailer. I keep coming back to the word ‘trashy’. Mads is utterly wasted on this thing.
Aw, I thought it would be a fun film while I did get to see a nice sex scene involving Mads. Shame it doesn’t do enough of no-holds barred action. Don’t waste Mads in shit like this.
Mads deserves so much better. Instead it’s nothing more than hyper-stylized trash. So incredibly frustrating because this is a character Mads can do in his sleep.
He needs NWR to create something new for him.
I’d be onboard.
I started watching this last night and I had to ask my husband if he was sure he selected Polar because I was so confused by the movie starting with Johnny Knoxville hanging out by a pool. I fell asleep and now I’m not sure if I want to waste my time revisiting or if this is just so bad that i NEED to revisit it.
It’s funny, I’m kind of a sap for ‘so bad it’s good’ movies. This one isn’t one of them. I hate to keep repeating this word, but it’s a trashy movie with nothing to ever draw me back.
Great review – I agree!
Definitely a film of two halves. Too bad one half was ugly, offensive, misogynistic trash!
And isn’t it disappointing? Did you ever see the trailer? That looked like an entirely different movie. So frustrating.
No, I didn’t see the trailer
It’s a really cool trailer. Unfortunately it’s for an entirely different movie than we get.