REVIEW: Polar (2019)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of Polar — Directed by Jonas Åkerlund.

Netflix’s Polar — from prominent Swedish music video director Jonas Åkerlund — is an action-comedy film based on a Dark Horse graphic novel of the same name starring Danish star Mads Mikkelsen as Duncan Vizla, a retired hitman who, after an attempt is made on his life, comes out of retirement to take down those who have wronged him, and to save his neighbor (played by Vanessa Hudgens) from the people that tried to take him out.

Those closest to me know that I am a big fan of Mads Mikkelsen. He isn’t just my favorite Danish actor, he is also one of my favorite actors ever. Therefore, I was, naturally, looking forward to his first collaboration with Netflix — Polar. Mikkelsen has previously said how much he is a fan of martial arts films, beat-em-ups, and action-fights, so it isn’t really surprising that he’d be fascinated by this film, which, I imagined, was going to be Mikkelsen’s John Wick-like action star-vehicle. Unfortunately, I thought Åkerlund’s action film, which features heavily eroticized shots of women, was distracting, overly-stylized, and obnoxious.

Polar is a film that is at war with itself. On one hand, you have this very interesting and serious action drama about a retired hitman at the end of his rope trying to settle down, but, on the other hand, the film insists on having these bonkers scenes that felt so immature and obnoxious to me that the film became tough to watch.

It all starts with the awkward title font effects and the first action sequence which I thought was uncomfortably male-gazy. The font uses this glitch effect, and when the title of the film comes up it is accompanied by a laughable screaming sound effect, a gunshot sound effect, and red blood splatter spelling out the letters that already appear on-screen spelling ‘POLAR.’

The first sequence shows Johnny Knoxville’s character in Chile by a pool. He is ogling a woman getting out of the pool in slow-motion, after which she goes over to the former Jackass-star and tells him “It’s blow-time, mister.” This is all presented with vibrant colors, an oddly comedic tone, and unnecessary freeze-frame character cards. Everything here is over-sexualized and hyper-stylized, just like the rest of the film which is at times borderline pornographic with its extended sex-scenes featuring Mads Mikkelsen and women half his character’s age (though I will say I thought it was fun to see Mads Mikkelsen run around naked in the snow killing hitmen).

“Do you find Jesus attractive?”

The comedy never worked for me, the sped-up, nervous editing and character cards were jarring and distracting, and the comedic characters were head-ache inducing when paired with Mads Mikkelsen’s much more serious character. It’s safe to say that Mads Mikkelsen is in a completely different movie than Matt Lucas, who seems to be having the time of his life.

Like much of the film, the scene at the very end of the film — after all of the action is over — is tonally at odds with the rest of the film, and I wish the movie would’ve been more in line with this scene. There is potential here for a much better and more serious film, but that isn’t the film Åkerlund set out to make.

The unfortunate truth is that while Mikkelsen doesn’t quite make the film work, he is the only thing that makes this film even watchable. His action scenes are somewhat captivating, but it is his quieter scenes with life after the job that I wish this film would’ve focused on more. There is a good film here covered underneath overbearing colors and behind the uncomfortable male-gazey images.

Netflix’s Polar is best described as John Wick meets Atomic Blonde meets Crank. It is a hyper-stylized and immature John Wick-esque action vehicle with obnoxious, head-ache inducing editing, pornographic scenes, and a wasted Mads Mikkelsen performance.

4.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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