One question about Polar: Why?
This John Wick-style knockoff is an astonishingly flaccid film, a movie that extends into 119 minutes what could have been condensed into a generous but still painful 90 minutes, a viewing experience that prioritizes blood splatter and bouncing butts over literally all else, a production that my partner rightfully described as “cringe-worthy edgelord offensive bullshit.” I can’t get any more descriptive than that, so he gets credit for that one!
Polar debuted on Netflix on Friday, and we watched it on Saturday afternoon, and you know that line in TK’s review of Glass where he said the movie was so painfully long that he thought he would be late to work numerous days later? That is the experience of Polar, but worse, because you’re watching this at home, and you locked yourself into this choice, and you think, “Well, maybe it will get better,” or, “Well, maybe Mads Mikkelsen will do full frontal,” but the movie DOES NOT and he DOES NOT. It is rude and it is bad.
Based on a series of webcomics by Victor Santos and directed by Jonas Åkerlund (who has extensive experience directing music videos, but who does nothing particularly remarkable here), Polar focuses on an assassin Duncan Vizla, the Black Kaiser (Mikkelsen, rocking a mustache that rivals Henry Cavill’s in terms of pure sexual energy), who is approaching his 50th birthday and his forced retirement from the Damocles Agency. Upon his retirement, he’ll receive about $8 million from the company as a pension payment, and he’ll disappear to one of his many properties to live out the rest of his no-longer-violent life.
But no! The Damocles Agency pulls him back in for one final job when one of their former agents is murdered. (Does it help if I tell you that Johnny Knoxville plays that agent, and he takes a male enhancement drug before being shot full of bullets, and then you see his corpse with a noticeable erection? Does that make you want to see this movie?) Duncan doesn’t really have a choice, so he takes the company intel and goes to Belarus and kills who he’s told to kill. But there are secrets and double-crosses and betrayals that come as baggage for this final job, and Duncan’s retirement doesn’t seem so secure anymore.
So, y’all want to be spoiled? You’re curious and self-destructive enough to keep reading? OKAY, LET’S DO THIS.
SPOILERS AHEAD SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
The Damocles Agency is run by the disgusting, moisture-obsessed Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas) (literally, we see him strapped into a OB-GYN-style stirrups, while two old women rub his entire body down with lotion), who has helped the company turn a profit by killing its agents before they retire so they don’t have to pay out the $8 million in retirement. Now that Mr. Blut is trying to sell Damocles, he’s trying to get rid of Duncan, and he severely underestimates the man’s smarts: He sends in a team led by his pleather catsuit-wearing girlfriend Hilde (Fei Ren, copying the look from the video game Mirror’s Edge), who try four of Duncan’s properties before finding him living off the grid in Montana. In Florida, a man slaps around Sindy (Ruby O. Fee), thinking she’s a prostitute there for him to beat up; she stabs him over and over again as revenge. In Austin, the team struggles to choke an extremely obese man, and the scene is played with a weird mix of “Look at how gross this person is!” and “Look at how much blood comes out of his body when we shoot him for a solid minute!”
Every scene with the assassins is edgier than the last, and the movie really lays it on thick instead of developing its characters or adding any kind of depth to its plot: Duncan uses a nail gun on a man’s genitals. When Mr. Blut captures Duncan, we see him torture the assassin for four days, stabbing him and cutting off pieces of skin and my god how many times do we need to see blood splattering on walls and floors and on people’s faces? We fucking get it! Duncan and Sindy have this outlandish sex scene during which one of their many positions is him pressing her against a cabin window in subzero Montana, and the movie makes sure to focus on her breasts, because of course it does, because up until that point I counted no fewer than a dozen butt-only shots of women in thongs, women in short-shorts, women who are strippers, women who are escorts, women whose professional obligation is to please and service men. And Hilde isn’t much better; she’s barely anything more than a typically subservient yet fetishized for violence Asian stereotype.
OK, yeah, so the treatment of women in Polar sucks. It’s garbage! But so is every element of the assassins storyline, which wants to be like John Wick but lacks any of the artistic design or visual storytelling or cinematographic verve to even remotely exist in that same universe. (The only thing I really liked about the assassins storyline was the character Vivian, played by Katheryn Winnick, who is garbed in some enjoyably outlandish outfits, like a multicolored sequin jumpsuit with cut outs running down the length of the legs.)
And that gratuitously violent half of the movie never really meshes well with the other half, which focuses on Duncan trying to settle into a normal life. (This would have been a far better movie, honestly—watch a former assassin attempt to navigate the next phase of his existence in slow-moving rural Montana.) He gets a dog, and I’m sorry to say, that he has a nightmare and shoots and kills the dog. (A particular “Fuck you, this isn’t John Wick” message to viewers.) He holds a birthday party for himself and struggles when deciding what boxed cake mix to buy, and then we see him alone in his cabin, blowing up his own balloons while watching a cooking show. He visits a local school, passes around a knife, and answers the children’s questions about his international travel in ways that are low-key ignorant about those countries. And he struggles to create a friendship with his next-door neighbor, Camille (Vanessa Hudgens).
What is Camille running from? She’s skittish, she seems totally unprepared to live in Montana, and her cabin is decorated with her black and white animal photography. The fact that she only takes pictures of predators doesn’t pique any interest in Duncan (although it screams to viewers, “HUH I GUESS SHE IS HIDING SOMETHING WHY IS SHE OBSESSED WITH KILLERS”), who instead seems to warm to her, enough so that the assassins notice, kidnap her, and pump her full of heroin as a way to punish Duncan. It is fucked up! But then Duncan uses a pair of laser-activating gloves to shoot dead everyone who Mr. Blut sends to capture him, and then he cuts off Mr. Blut’s head with the sword of Damocles, and it’s like, “Oh right! That was the name of Mr. Blut’s company! Wow, look at this synergistic storytelling!” And then you can just go ahead and punch yourself right in the face.
BUT IT’S NOT OVER. Then you find out that this recurring nightmare of Duncan’s (which the movie shows in full every time he has it, so that’s like, 10 unnecessary minutes right there) is of his one botched job (ONLY ONE BOTCHED JOB IN AN ENTIRE LIFE TIME OF ASSASSINATING???), during which he accidentally killed a family. TWIST: That family was Camille’s! And she’s hunted him down! Because he paid for all of her schooling and put millions of dollars aside in a trust for her and just now in her late 20s is she like, “Huh, I wonder where that all came from!”
But does Camille forgive Duncan after he explains about the bad intel? Of course! Do they stare off into the wilderness together at the end of the film, in a way that makes me wonder, “Oh god, did they consider making a Polar 2 about Duncan training Camille for revenge? NO, PLEASE, DON’T.” And did the movie feature Duncan buying Camille various weapons as gifts, because clearly only guns will make women feel safe in this cruel world? Yes, ding ding ding, that is the kind of movie this is!
Do you see Mads’s butt in Polar? Yes, and it’s fine. But is that enough to tolerate a movie in which all this other dumb shit happens? I can’t say that. I love the man and his mustache and how rakishly good he looks with an eyepatch, but not enough to recommend Polar.
Image sources (in order of posting): Netflix Media Center, Netflix Media Center