Netflix film Polar has a particular style that is to be enjoyed, but it struggles to nail the connection between some characters, and cannot decide what genre it wants to be.
When I learned that Netflix film Polar is based on a graphic novel, the first act made sense. The celebration of blood, the somewhat exaggerated and colorful characters, an obsession with countless headshots and a flavor for torture.
You can tell that Jonas Åkerlund had a specific vision for this story, and he proudly puts his ideas into action in the first 20 minutes, but the style was laid on too thick, giving a clunky, disparate beginning, with video-game-style introductions that finally attempt to merge with a serious, broody action thriller that doesn’t quite work.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Duncan Vizla aka “The Black Kaiser”, who has 14 days left until his well-awaited retirement, with the company he assassinates for owing him a staggering eight million pound pension when he turns 50. The head of the company, Blut, waggishly played by Matt Lucas, is fretting that the company pension bonds are becoming a liability, so promises prospective buyers that his current crop of old assassins will die before 50, enabling the business to make a profit, rather than a loss. Duncan has the fight of his life, re-entering the game against his own company, with a set of young assassins trying to kill him.
The premise of Polar is hardly an original idea, however, with Mads Mikkelsen leading, it works once it gets away from the shifty first act. His miserable, glum appearance suits the cold, frozen exterior of the town he is residing in. Duncan shows little emotion in the film, hardened by many years of cold killings and a regret that comes in flashes in his dreams. Duncan also meets a young woman named Camille (Vanessa Hudgens), who is the only character that manages to extract the tiniest of emotions from the assassin.
Polar becomes the film we want once they throw Mads Mikkelsen is various action scenes. The action is impressively entertaining, gory and progressive as he tries to survive an onslaught from people trying to kill him. It takes a while for this movie to get to this stage because the young team of assassins cannot find him, so they routinely kill various people who may understand his whereabouts in their violent ways.
I did enjoy Polar, but there is a severe disconnect between style and story; it almost wants to be a few genres at once, making it feel hopelessly muddled by the time the film reaches the third act. Duncan has a clear interest in Camille, but the film sidetracks on too many occasions for us to understand his curiosity for her – thus the movie feels confusing; on the one hand, you want to understand what the film wants you to explore, yet once the action goes into full-throttle, you couldn’t care less. You just want to see Mads Mikkelsen survive various bullet wounds and f**k people up as much as possible.
At the same time, I admire what the director was trying to do, but in hindsight, it may have been better if he stuck to one genre and went with it. Polar is undoubtedly entertaining but fails to be what it wants to be.