Director – Jonas Åkerlund
Cast – Mads Mikkelsen, Vanessa Hudgens, Katheryn Winnick, Matt Lucas
Rating – 1/5
The involvement of Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund is perhaps the only reason one might want to check out Polar, easily a top contender for one of the worst Netflix original movies ever made.
Based on a cult comic book, Polar is a film that oddly discards the very essence of its source material in favour of Åkerlund’s distinct punk rock amorality. It is a situation similar to when Michael Bay smeared the Transformers with his own tainted sensibilities, and then forced the studio to essentially pry the property from his hands after running it down the drain. Åkerlund is of course operating on a much smaller scale, but has in the past – in both his feature films and the music videos that he is more popular for – displayed a very unique visual style.
Curiously, for a comic book whose inspirations were so proudly cinematic – creator Victor Santos has cited everything from Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai to the films of John Woo as influences – the actual movie adaptation feels like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and not in a subversive way. It would appear the John Wick movies have beaten Polar at its own game, both in terms of cinematic literacy and style. It’s most obvious reference, pathetically, is to the 2007 Clive Owen-Monica Bellucci movie, Shoot ‘Em Up – this should be a good indication for what you’re in for.
Watch the Polar trailer here
Polar tells an overly complicated story of a hitman, played by Mads Mikkelsen, who on the brink of retirement finds himself pulled back into the game when his former employer puts a hit out on him. He is known as The Black Kaiser, a name nowhere near as instantly iconic as Keanu Reeves’ Baba Yaga from the John Wick movies. But within his clandestine hitman community, he is almost as legendary. Like John Wick, Duncan Vizla – that’s the Black Kaiser’s real name – exists in a hyper-stylised world. It’s a world in which the women have an aversion to clothes and the men speak almost exclusively in monosyllabic grunts.
Matt Lucas, who starred in Åkerlund’s off-puttingly strange comedy, Small Apartments, plays the evil Mr Blut in Polar. Mr Blut is the overlord of an organisation of hitmen (and women) known as Damocles. With the threat of bankruptcy looming over his head, Mr Blut – a man with the grotesque physical appearance of a Bond villain and the intellect of a Looney Toons character – cooks up the most hair-brained scheme imaginable. He plans on hiring employees to murder other employees, so that he can claim their life insurance for himself – essentially. If this is a statement on evil corporations duping their hard working employees out of provident funds and other dues, and pitting competition against each other, then it is lost in a barrage of hyper-violent action and boring drama.
Polar is a disgusting piece of work. It ignores the source comic book’s stark, Sin City-inspired black and white visuals and opts instead for a lurid colour palette, with jarring title cards that inform the viewer of everything from locations to character names, all with the force of a power drill to the skull. It doesn’t even briefly entertain the possibility of retaining the comic’s complete lack of dialogue and instead jams the most ridiculous screenplay down Mads Mikkelsen’s throat.
But its worst sin is the nihilism that oozes out of every pore in its being, and the soullessness that stinks up every minute of its run time. It holds the unique and unenviable distinction of transforming a simple globe-trotting montage into the most wicked display of racism I can recall. This also includes the most ill-advised instance of the glorification of an obsolete Indian custom since Padmaavat.
Polar is painful to watch, and not just in the many scenes of cruel torture that it revels in. Its disrespect for the audience can only be rivalled by its disrespect for women – several of them give the impression that they’ve been caught in the act of stripping for some sleaze ball. It has nothing worthwhile to say about violence in movies, nor about the role of women in male-centric films.
Like Åkerlund’s first film, the rather enjoyable Spun – a movie that had little of value besides a vague sympathy for its drug addled cast of characters and a score by Billy Corgan – Polar wastes an atmospheric soundtrack by Deadmau5 and a dependably strong performance by Mads Mikkelsen in a bizarre exercise that will appeal to no one.