The world’s greatest assassin is about to retire when his former boss decides he’s a liability. Hoping for a silly shoot ‘em up like The Mechanic or John Wick? Sorry to disappoint but Polar, released this week by Netflix, isn’t it. Instead, this is a film so terrible that it’s an early contender for the year-end worst of lists.
Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen) is the great assassin preparing for his 50th birthday and mandatory retirement. He’s already started to wind down by moving to a snow covered one-street town in Montana. There, Duncan wanders around his log cabin, buys a dog, accidentally shoots his new pet before befriending his next-door neighbour. Wildlife photographer Camille (Vanessa Hudgens) is easily spooked but she and Duncan form a tentative friendship.
But Duncan’s old life isn’t finished with him: former boss Blut (Matt Lucas) wants him to do one last job before he’ll let him clock off. It’s explained to the audience several times that this is a set up intended to kill Duncan, thereby removing the firm’s liability for his pension from their accounts and increasing their profits. The plan fails and Blut sends a team of younger killers on a road-trip across the United States to track Duncan and finish the job.
You’re probably thinking Polar can’t be that bad. What we’re expecting is a well-choreographed violent flick with a sense of humour. What follows is ultra-gory murder and torture fest that leads towards a poorly constructed showdown between Duncan and everyone trying to kill him.
There is good work here from Mikkelsen as the taciturn hired gun attempting to stay alive and claim his significant pension from the corporation that seeks to do him, the working man, out of his entitlements. However, Mikkelsen’s efforts alone are not enough to save this bloated mess.
Polar’s highly stylised visual aesthetic owes a debt to director Jonas Akerlund’s work on music videos and hints at the story’s graphic novel origins. The script is stuffed with moments that might have looked great as a panel but fail to have the same impact when translated from the page to the screen. A leaner runtime would also have helped to focus the scattered narrative. There is a lot of repetition here that makes Polar’s two hours feel much longer.
Hudgens does her best with the buttoned-up Camille, but the character feels like she’s from another film entirely. This dissonance is never fully resolved and becomes much more troubling as the film progresses. In fact, Polar’s female characters are mostly one-dimensional stereotypes there to be objectified by the camera. One of the assassins chasing Duncan has a modus operandi of seducing her targets and engaging them in sex acts while her partners get ready to make the kill. This explicitness feels regressive and vulgar, particularly in the current cultural moment.
Polar is extremely violent from start to finish with characters picked off using increasingly graphic methods. In places, the fight choreography resembles early Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, but is also comparable to some of the more ridiculous moments in movies such as Crank or Taken.
Lacking the playful awareness that adds levity to similar shoot ‘em ups and the wit of many contemporary action thrillers, Polar is a crude and repetitive slog that squanders a good performance from Mikkelsen. There’s not much fun to be have here for fans of action. Eimear Dodd
Polar is available to stream on Netflix.