Review: ‘Polar’ is a disappointing yet entertaining mess of a movie

by James Cronin | 1/31/19 2:30am

It’s an understatement to say that Netflix has a bad history with its original movies. Sure, they might make one decent movie every now and then, but for every “Roma,” there are at least three films like “The Cloverfield Paradox.” “Polar,” regrettably, won’t be joining “Roma,” “Mudbound” or “Beasts of No Nation” in the lofty pantheon of decent Netflix movies because, depending on your definition of what makes a movie good, it’s either some of the worst trash to ever grace the “trending now” section of Netflix, or a glorious hot mess that’s incredibly entertaining by virtue of how bad it is.

Mads Mikkelsen stars as retired, legendary assassin Duncan Vizla — known better by his nickname “the Black Kaiser.” Upon turning 50, Vizla is forced to retire from the life of an assassin, as per the rules of the crime syndicate he works for, and is entitled to a retirement package of $9 million. Obviously, the crime syndicate — known as Damocles — doesn’t want to pay this retirement package, so they come up with the genius idea to try and kill the legendary Black Kaiser. It does not go as planned. 

Personally, I don’t think every movie needs to be the next “The Shawshank Redemption.” I think that simple, hyper-violent action movies with little to no plot that do nothing but glorify violence have a place in cinema because of their entertaining nature. I love action movies that don’t try to be pretentious, and “Polar” is this type of movie at moments. However, for most of it, it crosses into borderline parody territory. If a bunch of emotionally stunted high-schoolers got together, were given a few million dollars to land Mikkelsen and attempted to make the next “John Wick,” this would be the result. 

I genuinely enjoyed a few parts of this movie. Mikkelsen is the best part of the film by a large margin. He brings his A-game to the screen and manages to slightly mitigate some of the damage of an otherwise complete dumpster fire. If he wanted to become the next Liam Neeson in the line of old man action heroes, he could do it effortlessly. Halfway through, I actually had to look up how much money he was paid for this role because I thought he was far above this type of flick. I sincerely hope that, at the least, he was able to buy a new summer home for the damage inflicted on his reputation. The action, while so violent that it would make even Quentin Tarantino blush, was actually pretty decent in most parts. It’s a far cry from the cinematography and choreography of “John Wick,” but it does a solid job of grabbing the viewer’s attention nonetheless. Stylistically, I enjoyed the hyper saturated colors, the quirky “ransom note” graphics, and how most characters were funky and quite varied except for the villain, who was absolutely horrendous as a result of both Matt Lucas’ performance and of how he was written in the screenplay.

This movie fails in a few places. For one, there is far too much insanely gratuitous violence that literally does nothing but unnecessarily pad a runtime that’s already fairly long at one hour and 58 minutes. I usually love movie violence, but there’s a limit. Overly graphic violence and torture that does nothing to further the plot is something that even I can’t stomach, and that’s saying a lot if you knew what a few of my favorite movies are. Also, the unnecessary amount of female nudity was gratuitous and pandering, and I sincerely hope that director Jonas Åkerlund included it in an attempt to satirize the misogynistic nature of old Hollywood films, and not because it’s a reflection of his own opinions on women — but that might be a stretch. I will say that there are at least some “strong” female characters who play bad guys, so at least not all of the women in this movie are treated as objects.

Evidence for the theory that Åkerlund actually intended to make this movie a parody of “grindhouse” exploitation films is the sheer number of clichés. Here are a few of the ones I managed to spot: henchmen have stormtrooper aim and cannot hit the protagonist from almost point blank range; the antagonists have multiple opportunities to easily kill the protagonist but do not for some convoluted reason; bad guys travel in a motorcade of black SUVs; the main protagonist gets grievously wounded multiple times throughout the movie and doesn’t die even though he doesn’t seek immediate medical attention; guns never need reloading; there’s a damsel in distress that the protagonist must save; the most clichéd 90s-esque computer software I’ve ever seen; a villain with absolutely no depth; a betrayal by someone the protagonist thought was his friend; a protagonist who speaks almost solely in one-liners. Admittedly, I really enjoyed the last cliché because Mikkelsen can make any line sound really cool.

This movie is a different kind of terrible, and that’s probably its most entertaining aspect. Eighty percent of what’s in the movie is bad but in ways you haven’t seen before, so it’s unintentionally really amusing. I watched it with a buddy of mine who was visiting for the weekend and we had a decent time. So, if you’re like us, you will find some value in this train wreck, but I wouldn’t count on it. I’m extremely glad I didn’t have to pay money to see this. That it only cost me two hours of my Saturday I could otherwise have spent napping and the fact that it was moderately entertaining redeemed it to the point where I can actually recommend it to anyone who enjoys a “bad” movie every now and then.