Netflix is great for variety and they continue to bring original content, this time adapting a 2012 web comic Polar: Came in From the Cold by Victor Santos into a fast-paced whirlwind action film that’s more style than substance.
Duncan, aka The Black Kaiser (Mads Mikkelsen) is an aging master assassin who just wants to retire. He’s been through the wringer over the years and managed to come out the other side with a sizable pension amassed, but his employer Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas) has other ideas. Mr. Blut doesn’t want to pay Duncan his dues, and send out his fellow killers to get rid of him so the money can go back to the company. When the company’s plan threatens Camille’s (Vanessa Hudgens) life, a young woman who lives in a neighbouring cabin to Duncan, mayhem ensues as The Black Kaiser must blast his way to a peaceful existence and hopefully save her life in the process.
I went into Polar with no knowledge of its background, but almost immediately thought that a graphic novel or comic must have inspired the film. After having read the comic, the sparse but effective story of an aging assassin trying to outsmart his bounty hunters leaves plenty of room for embellishment, and screenwriter Jayson Rothwell and director Jonas Åkerlund embellish for days. Åkerlund stays true to a comic book style with quick cuts that resemble panels from a page. His background in music videos make his visuals engaging, using lots of colour, patterns and bright splashes of blood to punctuate the whip quick action scenes. Kudos also goes to the set and costume design team for their skill in bringing this vision to life.
Overall the cast gave decent performances. Mikkelsen as the stoic assassin was good, but the real scene-stealers were Lucas and Hudgens. Lucas, of Little Britain and Bridesmaids fame, is in fine comedic form as the slimy Damocles boss Mr. Blut, and Hudgens is a shadow of her usually vibrant self as the haunted young neighbour with a burden that honestly crushes your heart in the finale. There’s also cameos by Johnny Knoxville and Richard Dreyfuss that elicited a shrug from me as their talents are wasted in the film.
Speaking of waste, here’s where the praise ends. Polar lacks in substance to match what it brings ten times over in style. The story is cluttered and jet-black humour frequently falls short. Just wait until the kindergarten knife tutorial, which features inappropriate humour that would make anyone with an iota of sense cringe. There’s also a dog death that’s completely unnecessary in my eyes. Lastly, please spare me the John Wick comparisons because it starts and ends with them both being assassins.
Polar is almost two hours of sensory overload that attempts to be a slick and gritty thriller but comes off as a brash, cluttered and crude film. Be prepared for over-the-top action and not much else.