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MOVIES: Polar - Review

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Available on Netflix now, Polar is the weaker of the two winter-titled Mads Mikkelsen movies that came out in early 2019, and feels like a poorly made John Wick imitation that has a sole purpose of looking edgy and cool. After the excellent recent Netflix originals like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Roma and High Flying Bird, this film serves as a reminder that there are more misfires than hits on the streaming service. This particular film, then, an adaption of a webcomic by Victor Santos and published by Dark Horse Comics, does absolutely nothing new in its genre, feeling like a stereotypical revenge movie that takes far too long to get going and feels completely, tonally bizarre as it switches from a cheesy, over the top music video-heavy drama to a gritty revenge thriller. Even Mikkelsen can't save this one, although he does his best.

The film introduces us to Mikkelsen as an ageing hitman, who is forced into retirement at 50, but every beat it hits is something that you've seen not only done before, but also done better. From the moment that we are introduced to the younger, flashy new group of assassins you know exactly the kind of movie that you're going to get. The introductionary title cards for the characters borrow from Suicide Squad as an influence, something which - knowing Suicide Squad, wasn't the best thing to use as an inspiration. If you look up the definition of style over substance for Polar you'll find a picture of Jonas Ã…kerlund's film right there, and it's something that's explained very easily with his background in the music video industry - he co-directed Beyonce's Lemonade and has solo directing duties for Taylor Swift's The 1989 World Tour - Live. So it makes sense then, that there are plenty of pop hits in this film, but unfortunately, none of them used well.

Rather than used sparingly and with care they feel lazy and tacked on, again, much like Suicide Squad. There is no sense of depth or substance here - with every assassin character almost being groan-worthy in their names and design. Be it Mikkelsen's grizzled, eyepatch-wearing Duncan Vizla or Matt Lucas' Blut, the whole film looks like it drew together one of the most random casts possible. Lucas himself looks like he's in a completely different film, playing the over-the-top, cheesy bad guy, Vanessa Hudgens' Camille is about as standard and as forgettable as you might expect in a movie like this, and Katheryn Winnick is largely wasted which is a shame considering how good she has been on Vikings. This hurts all the more - as this movie had the potential to be the next John Wick - which seems to be very much what the film marketing is going for, but instead, it turned out to be more of the next Suicide Squad, and even then, it manages to achieve the seemingly impossible in making Suicide Squad somehow look better.

The pacing is off too, and even though it's only 119 minutes long it felt like it lasted for an age. A 90 minute run-time would have worked better, as there are plenty of unnecessary moments and even sequel teases that feel included to pad its length. The cinematography isn't completely awful, giving a suitably atmospheric tone and look to the film that really helps make it at least, stand out from the pack of other action movies that we've seen in the past in terms of its look and feel. But in every other regard, from the plot to the characters, it feels like a combination of the greatest hits of the action movie genre.

If you want a smartly written and well-executed movie, Polar is not it. Its violence is excessive and perhaps the biggest disappointment of this film is that there are moments, however fleeting, where it shows promise of the fact that it could go on to become something better. Instead, the plot is drawn out and repetitive, doubling down on its stupidity (the scene at the beginning of the film is a chief example of this, with Blut sending in five assassins feeling a little overkill). It's this opening that audiences could have done without, with the time that the audiences do get to spend with both Duncan and Camille being much more interesting of the two intersecting plots. Duncan poses as someone in the funeral business, travelling to collect the bodies of Americans who have died overseas, but it's clear that there is more to him than first appears and it isn't long before Camille is drawn into the situation as well.

The poor script and character development might be perhaps forgivable if the fight scenes were good but sadly, they are just about as underwhelming as they come, save for maybe one scene which comes far too late in the game to offer any chance at redemption. The dialogue is just flat out boring and uninteresting, too. And on to of that, Its quick editing doesn't help matters much either, and it's to Mikkelsen's credit that he's able to make the most out of the otherwise entirely one-dimensional character, showing just how important good casting can be. But the edgy, Tarantino/Frank Miller esque influences that this film draws from do this movie no favours, and its vulgar, obtuse tone makes things very clear - unless you know it's the sort of movie that you're going to like going into it, it's best to stay well clear.

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