There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.
Duncan (Mads Mikkelsen) has had a long, successful career as an assassin and he 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 birthday, so he moves to 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 he takes a liking toward 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's will not leave him alone so easily. 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 his birthday. Duncan is still a capable killer, but he is vastly outnumbered and his enemies have the element of surprise. The odds of him surviving until his birthday are looking slim, and his new friend Camille may be in grave danger by being around him.
The Pros & Cons
|The Pros||The 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. I have liked him in everything I have seen him in, and this character gave him plenty to sink his teeth into. Duncan was a badass, there was no doubt about that. That part of the character, alone, was enough to keep me watching and Mads Mikkelsen did a great job of playing the mysterious action badass. On top of that, the character was also conflicted. He was haunted by his past, the tragic things he had seen, and the tragic things he had done, and this was what made the character so interesting.
There was one specific event that haunted him more than the rest. We did not find out what it was until the end of the movie, but the character had clearly been struggling with it for a very long time. Duncan was a cool character, and Mads Mikkelsen played that part well, but there was a lot more to this character than what was on the surface. Duncan was an emotionally and morally broken man, and I thought Mads Mikkelsen did a really good job of playing into that.
Con: The Antagonists (-4pts)
There is not a whole lot to say here other than the fact that the antagonists 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 haunted them for a long time. This made these characters feel very real, and dramatically broken, but the antagonists were very different. They were over-the-top, silly, bizarre, and illogical. This made them feel very fake. They could have worked if the protagonists were similarly over-the-top, but due to how much I liked the character stories for the protagonists, the mismatch made the antagonists feel like obvious weaknesses of the movie.
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Pro: Vanessa Hudgens (+5pts)
Vanessa Hudgens did not have a huge role, but it was still significant and she was impressive in it. This was very much Duncan’s story, but Camille was a character with her own tragic past. The details of that tragic past were not revealed until a good chunk of the way through the movie, but Vanessa Hudgens effectively conveyed the character’s emotion to the audience. Despite the audience not knowing what her past was, Vanessa Hudgens played the character in a way that made it clear that she did have a tragic past. She was running from something just like Duncan was, and the scenes in which Vanessa Hudgens got to bring her character's pain to the screen were captivating. With a lesser actress, this character could have been shallow, and uninteresting, but Vanessa Hudgens brought the character's inner demons to the screen in a really dramatic and compelling way that made this movie far more interesting whenever her character was on screen.
Con: Kill vs. Capture (-3pts)
Have you ever seen a movie in which an 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 work if the protagonist has something that the antagonist needs—and killing the protagonist would prevent them from getting it. Unfortunately, that was not what the filmmakers did in this movie. Instead, they had the antagonist make the “mistake” of wanting to make Duncan suffer, so they 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 it just came across as lazy writing in order to keep the protagonist alive until the movie's climax.
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. What I liked about the premise so much was that it was simple and it made way for a ton of action.
The main character was an absolute master of stealth, hand-to-hand combat, and he was skilled with a variety of weapons. The action was cool, brutal, and exciting. There was plenty to like about the protagonists and their stories, 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 heroes get hit hard, only to walk off injuries that should be crippling or almost fatal. Duncan was very skilled, but when he got hit, he felt it. I appreciated this, and it actually made the action feel more and more intense as the movie went on, because the main character was becoming weaker and weaker, while simultaneously going up against more challenging obstacles.
Con: The Reveal (-2pts)
There was a reveal at the end of the movie that lost some impact due to a fake out, as well as some confusion regarding which characters knew what. The fake out was the filmmakers trying to trick the audience into believing one thing, then almost immediately, showing the true outcome. It would have been one thing if the filmmakers let us believe the lie for a while, but to have this fake out, only to reveal the truth immediately, made the whole thing kind of pointless. The reveal also made the main character seem kind of dumb. The main character was supposed to be this master assassin—a career in which 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 did not make sense for the main character not to have known the truth sooner.
Grade: B+ (85pts)
Polar was a strong action movie release from Netflix. It had a strong lead cast—with Mads Mikkelsen and Vanessa Hudgens—and it had great action. Both Duncan and Camille were emotionally damaged characters, and it was interesting to see their respective actors explore their stories. Duncan was also an absolute badass who was really fun to watch doing his thing.
The movie’s greatest weaknesses were easily its antagonists. They were too over-the-top for my taste, with bizarre costumes and comical personalities, and it 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 still 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.