Go with me on a journey for a second. Remember Crank? The really loud, colorful, bloody, anxiety-inducing movie where Jason Statham had to keep his heart racing so he wouldn't die -- that Crank? Well, imagine if Crank were a person who really loved John Wick, and wanted to be just like John Wick, so they went to the store and bought an expensive, yet still not-so-great John Wick costume and walked around all day in that costume doing their best John Wick impression, even though everyone very clearly understands that it's still Crank under the suit. That's Polar in a nutshell.
It has all of the problems of a movie like Crank, but it spends a lot of time trying to convince itself that it's the next John Wick. The more I've used this analogy with people, the more I've realized it has a vastly different meaning depending on who I'm talking to. This could sound like the most ridiculous garbage heap you've ever heard of, and you want no part of it. Or this could sound like the completely off-the-wall, intense action movie you've been waiting for, and you can't wait to see it. Point being, Polar is completely mad, for better or for worse.
Polar is based on the Dark Horse graphic novels by Victor Santos and stars Mads Mikkelsen as an aging hitman named Duncan. The agency Duncan works for is run by an absolutely vile lunatic named Blut (Matt Lucas), who has a clause in the contracts of all of his employees. Each of them has a multi-million dollar retirement fund for their work, but if they are killed before retirement, all of that money goes back into the company. Duncan is just a couple of weeks away from retirement, and Blut sends several goons after him, hoping to kill the legendary assassin and get the money back.
The source material is a pretty compact set of tales about this assassin and his life on the run after retirement, a wonderful little piece of noir fiction. The book relies on subtleties, but the film certainly does not.
Rather than a low-key, pulse-pounding thriller about a man trying his best to outwit his enemies, Netflix's take on Polar is about as in-your-face as you can get. The names of characters flash up on the screen in bold letters with outrageous sound effects when they first appear, the dialogue is intentionally grotesque and off-putting, and there is no shortage of over-the-top violence. Seriously, the amount of blood in this movie boggles the mind. (In perhaps the most difficult scene to watch in the entire movie, several assassins take turns cutting and shooting an obese person in the stomach, and it feels as though it will never end.)
I can understand and respect director Jonas Akerlund's change to the material. The high-speed violence and gore definitely adds a new layer of excitement to a story that would've been extremely difficult to translate onto a screen. That said, it seems as though getting from one gore-tacular set to another was the sole purpose of the film. It's reminiscent of the Saw franchise in that way. There's a feeling of, "How can we make the audience cringe next? Crucify a gangster with a nail gun in a hotel hallway? Sounds good."
The pacing of one-gross-thing-to-another-grosser-thing doesn't work in the slightest. There are plenty of times throughout the movie where you'll honestly forget what anyone is even doing and why. It's just violent for the sake of being violent. There's not anything wrong with having a violent movie, but when being violent is the point of your movie, it's tough to make it great. However, while the violence gets in the way of the actual movie, it does lend itself to some wonderful action sequences and smooth fight choreography. Watching Mads take on an entire team of assassins outside a snowy cabin is certainly worth your time.
Mikkelsen does his best here as the silent but deadly Duncan, and, truth be told, his performance could easily lead a better franchise. The script and direction just fail him more often than not. The same could be said for just about any other performance in the film. Matt Lucas is completely committed to his maniacal character; it comes off as a cartoon more than a real person, but it kind of works? Both Vanessa Hudgens and Katherine Winnick are also fantastic in the parts that they were given, but, sadly, at no point are they ever asked to do too much.
There are plenty of moments in Polar that rise above and work, but they are too few and far between to rise about the mess. That said, the movie is far from boring, and it wouldn't surprise me to see it achieve cult status in the very near future. The response to the film is likely to be incredible divisive.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Polar is set to release on Netflix this Friday, January 25th.