Movie Review: “Polar”
Duncan (Mads Mikkelsen) has had a long, successful career as an assassin and is one of the best in the business. He is nearing his fiftieth birthday, which is when the organization he works for forces their agents into retirement. He has built up a significant retirement fund of over eight million dollars (to be paid to him by his employer on his fiftieth birthday). Duncan decides to stay off the radar in the weeks leading up to his fiftieth birthday, so he moves into a small shack in the middle of nowhere, hoping that his employer would be unable to find him and ask him to go on a final mission.
He tries to live a quiet life and takes a liking towards his new neighbor, Camille (Vanessa Hudgens). Camille lives alone, but Duncan decides to help her with various things and gets to know her in the process. Camille has her own past that she is hiding from but, unfortunately, Duncan will not be able to live the quiet life he hoped for. His employer is struggling financially and notices that, if Duncan were to be killed before his birthday, his retirement fund would go back to the company. Thus various active assassins are tasked with trying to locate and eliminate Duncan before he turns fifty. Duncan is still a capable killer, but he is outnumbered and his enemies have the element of surprise. He will have to survive until his birthday, but his new friend (Camille) may be in grave danger by being around him.
The Pros & Cons
Mads Mikkelsen (+6pts)
The Antagonists (-4pts)
Vanessa Hudgens (+5pts)
Kill vs. Capture (-3pts)
The Plot & The Action (+8pts)
The Reveal (-2pts)
Pro: Mads Mikkelsen (+6pts)
I have seen Mads Mikkelsen in titles like Hannibal and Doctor Strange, and have always liked him in his respective roles, but this character gave him a lot more to do. Duncan is a badass, there is no doubt about it. That part of the character, alone, was enough to keep me watching and Mads Mikkelsen does a great job of playing the mysterious action badass. That being said, the character is conflicted. He his haunted by his past, the tragic things he has seen, and the tragic things he has done.
There is one specific event that haunts him more than the rest. We do not find out what it is until the end of the movie, but the character has clearly been struggling with it for a very long time. Duncan is such a cool character, and Mads Mikkelsen plays that part well, which made the movie really fun to watch. However there is a lot more to this character than what is on the surface, and Mads Mikkelsen did a great job of playing into the character’s complexity and pain.
Con: The Antagonists (-4pts)
There is not a whole lot to say here other than the fact that the antahonists felt like they were in a very different movie than the protagonists. The protagonists (Duncan and Camille) were dark characters. Duncan was a great assassin, and Camille was an innocent bystander, but both characters had a dark past that has haunted them for a long time. This made these characters feel very real, but the antahonists were very different. They were over-the-top, silly, bizarre, and illogical. This made them feel very fake. This would have worked if the protagonists were similarly over-the-top, but the mismatch made the antagonists feel like a weak point of the movie.
Pro: Vanessa Hudgens (+5pts)
Vanessa Hudgens did not have a huge role, but it was still significant and she was impressive in the role. This was very much Duncan’s story, but (as mentioned before) Camille is a character with a tragic past. The details of that tragic past are not revealed until a good way through story, but Vanessa Hudgens gave the character the necessary layers to convey the character’s emotion to the audience. Her pain really reveals itself when she is holding the gun (you will know what I mean if you have seen the movie), but I always felt the sense that Camille was seeking inner peace. She was battling her demons throughout this story, and I enjoyed watching that. I have also never seen Vanessa Hudgens in such a dramatic role, so I was pleasantly surprised to see her do such a great job with the character, and I hope Netflix makes a sequel to this movie so that I can see more of Camille’s story.
Con: Kill vs. Capture (-3pts)
Have you ever seen a movie where the antagonist has no problem quickly killing random people but, when they have the opportunity to kill the main character, they choose not to because they are a main character (and the movie would be over)? Of course you have, because filmmakers do that sort of thing all the time. This can only work if the protagonist has something that the antagonist needs (and killing the protagonist would prevent them from getting it). Unfortunately, that is not want the filmmakers did in this movie. Instead the had the antagonist made the “mistake” of wanting to make Duncan suffer, so did not want to kill him right away (how convenient for the writers). Given the antagonist’s motives, this did not make any sense for the character and just came across as lazy writing.
Con: The Plot & The Action (+8pts)
I saw the trailer for this movie and did not know what to make of the premise. Why would an assassin choose to work for an agency that tries to kill off its own assassins right before they retire? Fortunately, the filmmakers had an answer for this that made sense, so I was able to buy into the premise. What I liked about this premise so much was that it was simple and made for a lot of very naturally occurring action.
The main character was an absolute master of stealth, hand-to-hand combat, and was skilled with a variety of weapons. The action was cool, brutal, and exciting. I liked a lot about the movie (such as the characters and the lead actors) but, at its core, this was an action movie with awesome action. There was also the plus of having a main character that did not feel invincible. Too often, action heros get hit (hard) but seem to be able to walk off injuries that should be incredibly painful, or even almost fatal. Duncan is very skilled, but when he gets hit, he feels it. This was an aspect of the action that I appreciated.
Con: The Reveal (-2pts)
There is a reveal at the end of the movie, that was impactful, but it lost some of that impact due to a fake out, as well as some confusion regarding which characters knew what. The fake out is a moment that tries to make you believe one thing by cutting away at the last second. Then the movie shows what actually happened, almost immediately, which took a lot of the momentum out of the scene. It would have been more impactful without the pointless fake out, if we could have just seen the scene play out entirely (with all of its drama).
The reveal also made the main character seem dumb. I do not want to say why that is, exactly, but the guy is supposed to be an expert assassin (a profession where gathering intel is very important). It did not make sense that the character did not know the truth behind this reveal beforehand. It could have been an impactful reveal, but it was executed poorly and, once you think about the logistics of it, it does not make sense that the main character would not have been aware of it.
Grade: B+ (85pts)
Polar was, in my opinion, a strong movie release from Netflix. It had a strong lead cast, with Mads Mikkelsen and Vanessa Hudgens, and great action. Both Duncan and Camille were emotionally damaged characters that were interesting to see their respective actors explore. Duncan was also an absolute badass who was really fun to watch doing his thing.
The movie’s greatest weakness was its antagonists. They were too over-the-top for my taste, with bizarre costumes and comical personalities, and felt like they were in a very different movie than the protagonists. There was also a reveal at the end of the story that lost impact due to the poor execution by the filmmakers. I certainly had a few issues with the movie, but I really enjoyed it. The action was brutally awesome, the main characters were compelling, and the lead actors did a really good job in their respective roles. I will say it again, this was a strong movie release from Netflix.