'Polar' (2019) Movie Review
Netflix’s Answer to John Wick
There are some decent things that I can say about Polar. Mads Mikkelsen gives a cool performance and comes off as a total badass; I thought he was easily the best part of the whole movie. I appreciated the sleazy and seedy nature of the tone for the film, it’s something not really seen all that much in action/thrillers anymore and I found it to be refreshing for Polar to embrace that R-rated world with its use of sex, drugs, and violence. The action sequences are pretty well done with convincing effects work. And the visual aesthetic taken with the color scheme was stylish and felt like I was watching a graphic novel come to life at times. With all that said, I was pretty bored through a lot of this film. I fought against falling asleep through probably the entire second act. The film starts out relatively promising with a decent setup and some cool action, then it loses focus and becomes rather a slog to get through while it feels as though nothing of consequence is ever happening. By the time the third act hits it feels too little, too late. Which is disappointing because this could have been a real fun exploitation action flick, but it gets lost with its story so it resorts to padding pointless subplots out because they didn’t come up with enough actual substance to fill out the two-hour runtime. That to me is a shame because what we are left with is an uninteresting hitman film that comes across as trying to simply cash in on resembling the John Wick franchise a little bit.
Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen), a.k.a. the Black Kaiser, is a world class assassin that works for a secret organization, and he will soon be forced into retirement by his upcoming birthday. Upon his retirement he is promised to receive a payout of eight million dollars from the company he works for, however the company has other plans for Duncan as they don’t want to pay the assassin what he is owed. So the head of the assassination organization, Blut (Matt Lucas), arranges a hit on Duncan before he reaches his birthday in less than two weeks.
Sounds Pretty Cool, Right?
That does sound pretty cool, the premise of that is very solid as it has all the makings of something truly entertaining. But then it kind of stops. For the first thirty minutes the film is setting up this world of assassins with Mikkelsen’s character, Duncan Vizla, as well Blut and his small group of personal hitmen that are later hired to kill Duncan. But after establishing that Duncan is literally the greatest hitman this organization has ever witnessed, Blut’s first act as an attempt on Duncan’s life is by hiring a few uneducated gangsters that get killed all within minutes of Duncan showing up. It was stupid, but a lot of these characters are all of the sudden extremely stupid when it comes to trying to kill this guy. But I’ll get to that later. Once about the thirty minute mark hits and this first small group of idiots is already taken out by Duncan, then the narrative takes a break from being an action movie and just lounges around for literally another half hour doing nothing. Seriously, Duncan takes refuge just outside of a small snowy town in a cabin out in the woods and across the lake lives a young woman (played by Vanessa Hudgens) that he begins interacting with. That’s the next thirty minutes of the movie. Mikkelsen and Hudgens having relatively awkward conversations without much chemistry at all, although I will say that there turns out to be a bit of a reason why there isn’t any chemistry between the two. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that these two characters become co-leads in the movie and there isn’t a single interesting thing about their time spent together.
There are scenes that just happen for no reason that come out of nowhere and leave just as fast. When Duncan officially goes into hiding out in his cabin he randomly decides to adopt a dog, only to accidentally shoot the dog in his sleep a minute of screen time later. That’s the end of that being a thing. There’s literally a scene where Mikkelsen’s character is just sitting in his living room watching TV and filling up a red balloon with air… and that’s the end of that. Why was he doing that? I don’t really know. Does it come back in any way later on? No, never mentioned again. A little bit later the Hudgens’ character suggests to Duncan that he should teach kids in school about the world since he’s traveled the world so much. So the next scene he shows a small class of kids a knife and talks about how to kill a man with it and performs example moves on one of the students. Again, no reason this happens and it could have been completely left on the cutting room floor and nothing would have felt out of place. That’s the level of dawdling around that this screenplay does with these characters. Occasionally there will be something kind of odd like that type of stuff for no reason and then it’ll move onto the next thing. Some of the pointless scenes I could forgive if Mikkelsen and Hudgens shared any sort of chemistry with one another or portrayed some sort of bond that I could invest myself in, but the actors are sadly bland and boring together as they have very little to even say to each other.
The Baddies’ Subplot
Interwoven with the Mikkelsen-Hudgens scenes are Blut’s small group of hitmen in search of Duncan as they go from one place to the next that Duncan supposedly owns so they can kill him, but they only run into some poor souls that have no knowledge of what is even going on. Pretty much this whole search could have been cut and nothing would have changed, narratively speaking. The only reason this subplot was so expanded upon I believe was a poor attempt to interject some entertainment value with some gruesome kills that these hitmen perform. Yet there are still whole scenes where all these hitmen do is sit in a motel room looking through files on Duncan without a single line of dialog. No reason and adds nothing, but this movie is so focused with trying to pad out the runtime time that scenes like that make the cut even though the time spent could have been better utilized fleshing out and developing these characters instead. Or possibly getting this small assassin group facing off against the Duncan character so much earlier so the action could have felt more cohesive with its story line. But nah! And with all of this build-up for this small assassin group going up against Duncan, making these antagonists relatively colorful in their eccentricities, they are all killed off at the halfway mark. I’m dead serious, once this group eventually find Duncan and the plot finally starts getting back on track they are all killed off within a few minutes. An hour worth of build-up for a wildly disappointing payoff.
The Third Act (Only One Minor Spoiler)
I will say that once the film starts entering into the third act, it does become relatively more entertaining. Even though there is still a lot of irritating meandering in the story, there is at least some entertainment value to be had as Mikkelsen gets to shine a little more in the action sequences and the blood/gore effects are fairly brutal as well. But there is still so much time wasted on side characters that don’t matter at all and are out of the movie before we can even learn a thing about them. And the villain is an underwhelming, pompous and obnoxious twat. I didn’t find the antagonist character, Blut, the least bit intimidating or interesting. He simply annoyed me and came across as an idiot as he made dumb mistake after dumb mistake in his choices on how to kill Duncan. But that’s something that seems to be everyone’s problem, everyone is a complete and utter moron when it comes to trying to kill Mikkelsen’s character. It seriously almost never comes across as that this character is all that skilled to keep himself alive, but rather he’s just lucky. He’s lucky that every person that tries to kill him, whether it be the assassins or the villain or a henchman, they are suddenly struck with a case of ‘the stupids’ out of nowhere. That was something that constantly kept taking me out of enjoying this movie because there are so many times where this movie would already be over if he wasn’t so lucky. So many times where if any of the bad guys were the least bit competent, this guy would have been shot in the head at the twenty minute mark. But instead all of the action feels contrived as it feels like every villain is going out of their own way to make sure that this guy lives only so that the plot can keep going. I blame this fault on a script basis as well as a fight/gunfire choreography standpoint because both are fully guilty of this happening consistently throughout the movie. And yes, I do understand that this is nothing new in terms of action movies. This sort of plot contrivance happens all the time and I get that. But when an action movie is doing a good job at being entertaining then that sort of stuff doesn’t seem to matter all that much, but when I’m not really into it then it sticks out like a sore thumb. Especially in the case of Polar where the main character only remains alive through the absolute luckiest of circumstances happens through the entire movie, then it becomes somewhat grating and pretty distracting after a while.
As lazy as the writing and action sequences were executed in the third act, it still manages to squeeze out some decently entertaining scenes here and there. And overall it held my attention, but I don’t think that anything in the third act made up for all of the squandered time and potential that could have been used much more efficiently. I don’t think that Polar is a terrible sit, there is certainly a few positive qualities that I could recommend from my experience. But I definitely thought there could have been more done that would have added to the character of Duncan and his friendship with the Vanessa Hudgens character, which becomes practically the focus and her character winds up being kidnapped by the third act. However, because I have no investment in her character, nor do I believe in Duncan’s bond with her, I am left not caring whether or not she dies by the time the credits role. That is a huge problem that I basically do not care what happens to the co-lead of the movie. Because I never feel like I get to know much about her and the performance given is so unengaging, I have nothing to reel myself into giving a crap. Plus, there is a bit of a twist that happens in the last remaining minutes that I won’t give away but I will say that if you don’t see it coming then you weren’t paying attention because it is so obvious from the start where this subplot with a certain character is going that it’s not even funny.
The editing is terrible. I don’t mean structurally speaking, to an extent, I mean that there are just strange moments in the editing that make no sense and are severely jarring every time that they happen. The Duncan Vizla character seems to be suffering through a form of PTSD throughout the first two acts of the film as he flashes back a significant amount to his past hired hits. These flashback edits are weaved into the scenes about as well as a truck smashing through your house. In other words, they’re not. They sporadically enter the scene and are unappealingly flashy in their strobe effects that it started to annoy me every time they showed up. But also, it turns out that some of the imagery included aren’t actually flashbacks but are of events that happen later in the movie which only brought me confusion as to why. It didn’t make any sense to do that, the film doesn’t establish that this guy is psychic or that is even possible in the realms of this world, but I guess for whatever reason the editor wanted to include shots from the third act into this guy’s flashbacks. It’s a confusing move that I can only chalk up to ‘style over substance’ reasonings. Again though, once the third act hits the editing does seem to settle down with this tactic of the flashback sequences and it is a little better from there on out.
In terms of the editing within the action, I thought that it was properly handled and executed well enough as we get a decent look at everything happening on screen. There aren’t any moments where the camera will cut away from the violence just before it happens, nor does it have any particularly sloppy camera work within the action itself. Every fight and bloody effect is coherently shot. Which is a quality that I have to admire in an industry that seems to want to shy away from the brutality and only supply a watered down version of action scenes that are suitable for network television. Polar at least puts forth effort in providing an action film meant for adults that can handle more visually challenging violence than what the normal PG-13 rated action flicks supply. This isn’t anything like the Taken sequels where the cameraman is shaking the camera around like a madman while the editor cuts every .5 seconds. This respects its audience enough to give them some of the gruesome action that they would be craving out of a film like this. Maybe not enough to cohesively fit within the narrative, but it still has some fun with its exploitation-esque kills.
A Little Disappointed
Overall, Polar was a bit of a letdown. I don’t think that it is necessarily a bad movie, but it is terribly unfocused. Too much time spent on meaningless subplots that go nowhere and a relationship that fails to be charming or even entertaining, when it could have fleshed these people out or maybe interwoven the actual main plot with its action sequences way more into its narrative. As it is, it’s fine I suppose. Although I can’t really come up with much of an excuse to ever seek this movie out when there are plenty more options available in the action genre to choose from. You want a story about a hitman that explores a secret assassin world with a graphic novel quality to its visuals? Go watch the John Wick movies instead. They are far more entertaining with way more creative and expertly choreographed action. There’s no real reason that I can think of to ever see Polar, despite some of the cooler aspects that this film manages to accomplish with Mikkelsen’s performance and the cinematography. Even though this is free to watch with a subscription to Netflix, there are much better choices on Netflix that make for a more fun sit than this. If someone were to check this out, I can probably see them having an alright time and then forgetting about this relatively soon afterwards. Although I can also see people overhyping this movie as well, making it out to be better than it actually is because there are specific things about the movie that just feel like they are cynically cashing in on this being a hit with cosplayers. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but with how the character designs look in the movie, it just felt like someone thought they could probably snag the attention of the younger audience that likes to dress up as characters in social media videos or at conventions. Because of that I can see this movie being popular with a certain demographic. Other than that, I can’t see much reason as to bother with Polar. If you decide to check it out, I doubt that you’ll regret the watch unless this just isn’t your cup of tea, in which case… why would you bother? But I can’t see much to love about the film either. At the end of the day, it’s okay. Not great. Not awful. Just okay.
I just realized something… why the hell was this called Polar anyways?! Seriously, I can’t think of any reason why. I don’t think that was the name of the assassination organization. Nor was it any of the names of the characters. I don’t believe it was brought up in the dialog. Was it because our lead character hid out in a cold part of Montana? Is that it? I guess? Why the f*ck was this called Polar?! Meh. Whatever. Not important. I just don’t understand THINGS, I guess. It’s fine. I’m fine.
So Tell Me...
What’s your favorite hyper-violent action movie? Comment down below and let me know! I’d love to hear all about it. And if you enjoyed this review, then do me a little favor and share this around the social media world. I would truly appreciate it. Thank you for reading and have a terrific day!
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