Having just released on Netflix yesterday, Polar is an adaptation based on a comic series of the same name. If you caught the trailer in advance, then you may be excited to see all the thrills in store. Sadly, while Polar does offer some excellent moments, the overall result turns out to be a letdown.
Directed by Jonas Åkerlund, Polar follows the world’s top assassin, Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen), as he prepares to retire. Upon retiring, his former employer will have to pay him out for his work (which adds up to a large amount of money). Residing in Montana, Duncan knows he cannot have access to the funds until his birthday (which is in the near future) and spends his time trying to keep busy. He eventually meets his neighbor Camille (Vanessa Hudgens) and becomes close to her.
Duncan’s employer, Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas), begins scheming a plan to have him assassinated; for if an assassin dies before the end of their contract, the funds that would be given to them return to the company. When Blut’s hit squad comes into contact with Duncan and fails to kill him, they resort to kidnapping Camille; Duncan learns of this, sending him on a bloody path to save her.
Going into Polar, one can expect lots of action and gunplay; however, Blut’s desire for wanting Duncan dead makes for a generic story that never provides any substance outside the film’s action. Along with this lack of narrative depth, the film doesn’t give enough reason for us to care about the characters. This would be okay if Polar wanted to be another random action flick, but it is trying to make us feel, while not offering anything of significance.
The film’s attempts at sympathy come in when we see Duncan interacting with Camille. From start to finish we get very little understanding of who either is; we know they’re both friendly people and a bit awkward at times (that’s the extent of their personalities). By no means is this a problem with the acting, but it’s that the writing never works to reveal more of who each character is to the viewer.
Even in an action movie where the protagonist primarily serves to fight bag guys, it’s still possible to have a character you care for. Take John Wick for example – in the film, we feel for John due to the death of his wife and dog. In Polar, Duncan is just simply trying to retire; his effort to save Camille is there, except, there isn’t any emotional depth to it (since their connection lacks any personality). Combine this with his bland personality, and he comes off too generic of a protagonist.
Another issue is just how long the story meanders before significant conflict finally reaches Duncan. We are aware of Blut’s goal early on, yet, it takes roughly until the hour mark before the hit squad finally engages with Duncan. There is one scene beforehand where Duncan takes on an assignment, only to discover it was a means to take him out; but after he succeeds, we still wait some time until that major confrontation with the hit squad. Out of an almost two-hour movie, the first hour is essentially a mix of random slices of Duncan’s life, whoever the hit squad is bothering, and Blut talking to other side characters.
During this entire first half, there is this odd back and forth shift in tone. There’s a comic book quality at times where the film plays into the onscreen violence and sex appeal; these moments come with vibrancy in color and unique choices in music. However, as one scene ends full of chaos and energy, we may enter a scene that is giving off dark and dramatic tension; the shift between these two tones plays a big role in the story’s pacing problem. We may be in a scene where we feel like we are going to get more out of Duncan and Camille, only to return to the next outrageous thing Blut’s hit squad is doing.
That said, the majority of Polar’s second half is a treat (thanks to the great action sequences). That earlier scene with Duncan’s assignment gives viewers a little taste of his abilities; it isn’t until he takes on the hit squad that we see how much of an absolute badass he is. There’s a scene where, just after having sex, he runs through the snow and woods to kill a guy (while still naked). Mikkelsen brings out a terrifying aura in Duncan as he takes down waves of enemies. Viewers can look forward to some great confrontations as Duncan shows off his assassin skills.
Overall, Polar’s bland story and characters, as well as pacing issues, hurt the film more than the action sequences do good for it. The attempts to portray sympathy for characters comes off as weak, never providing viewers with much substance to connect with them. If you want just another action movie to put on, this film will do the trick; but if you are looking for an experience where the action and story work together to create a more meaningful time, it is best to look elsewhere.