Polar (Jonas Åkerlund, 2019) – Full Original – Action Thriller
Purposely making a “bad” movie is actually more difficult than it seems. Many films are crafted with the idea of being trashy fun with sex, violence and laughs – of the “laughing at” and “laughing with” varieties – prioritized over culturally respectable movie concerns like character, theme, meaning, etc. If you can pull it off, this kind of film-making can create masterpieces, like the recent film Mandy for example, which took “so bad it’s good” to another level of brilliance. Luc Besson and others of the French “cinema du look” made careers out of perfecting this balance to earn legions of fans. Polar was hoping to emulate these predecessors, but in the final analysis finding and maintaining the balance between surreal tone and gonzo sex and violence of this vein of film-making just proved too difficult for director Jonas Åkerlund.
The film’s plot is familiar to put it mildly, with yet another shadowy international assassin, Duncan Vizla aka The Black Kaiser (Mads Mikkelsen), trying to get out of the game, only to find his employers don’t want their staff riding off into the sunset. Instead they send you off with bang, using an elite team of killers to make sure the retiree never sees their pension payments. Such a plot is not far from the typical older-male actor “geriaction” film that has been reinvigorated in recent years by the popularity of Liam Neeson action films beginning with Taken and continuing up to last year’s The Commuter. Keanu Reeves has also become a fixture of this subgenre with his John Wick franchise, which Polar is clearly modeled on/ripping off.
With such a plot, the requisite older male star in Mads Mikkelsen, and the determination to go for trashy excess, Polar had a clear direction mapped out. And for the first third of the film it actually does a decent job of following that direction. As the crew hunts Duncan, the film is actually pretty engrossing and the comic/surreal elements work quite well. Repeated shots of dead men’s boners are unlikely to impress critics, but they worked to create a genuine comic moment and some of the bizarre scenes that follow are equally funny and memorable. Some of my favorite moments include an interrogation and murder of what appears to be a morbidly obese bearded lady who seems to be renting her mobile home from Duncan, making it one of the odder investment decisions for a movie hitman to make. There is also a great scene on a racquetball court that is boldly unexplained or contextualized.
The truly hilarious part of the first third of the film, though, is its use of sexual titillation. The film makes no bones (pun intended) about its prurient style, with the opening scenes featuring an unmissably deliberate “T&A” montage fixating on parts of Ruby O. Fee’s body. Her character’s role in the crew of superassassins is that of the honey trap and as such she features in the film’s most hilariously “so bad it’s good” scene that is an EXTREMELY long sex scene with Duncan that must involve about 10 different unrealistic sexual positions, including the classic only in the movies set up which sees the couple rutting away with Fee’s breasts rhythmically pushing against a glass window. The camera, of course, is placed outside the window.
Up to this point in the film I was grudgingly planning on a 3-4 star review as Polar was really going for it in terms of outlandish stylized trashy action and it was working. But once the superassassin gang is dead – SPOILER, sorry – what follows is about 70 minutes of just awful film-making. The next major segment will see Duncan captured and tortured by his former boss Blut (Matt Lucas). This torture scene is amongst the worst sequences in all the Netflix movies I have seen, and that’s saying something. It’s very long, without much interesting action and is mind-numbingly gruesome. There are buckets of blood in this part of the film, yet the scene is very boring as Blut just repeatedly stabs Duncan. That’s it, he just stabs and stabs and stabs. That’s the best the writers could come up with, apparently.
Then there is a laughably unrealistic escape on Duncan’s part followed by a third act in the story that attempts serious melodrama between Duncan and Camille (Vanessa Hudgens) a neighbor that he had mysterious feelings for, only for Blut and co. to go and kidnap her. (Her drugging by Blut’s cronies is intercut with the stabfest, making it doubly lame and repetitive.) Once she is rescued there are secrets revealed. If you actually want to see this movie still, I will not spoil the big twist, but suffice it to say that this twist is stupid and unbelievable on a bunch of levels. Even worse for the viewers is that this twist also leaves the story open for a sequel…
Vanessa Hudgens stars in this film as well as The Princess Switch, and it is interesting to think that the algorithm might suggest both of these films to the same viewer.
Matt Lucas also appears in A Futile and Stupid Gesture.
Kathryn Hennick, who plays the assistant of Matt Lucas’s character in this film, also appears in Vikings, which is a popular licensed series for Netflix in many territories. She will also appear in the upcoming action series Wu Assassins for Netflix.
Richard Dreyfuss appears for all of two seconds in the film – see below on Pointless Cameos – and coincidentally he is also in The Last Laugh, a Netflix film which came out a few weeks earlier on the service.
Both Johnny Knoxville and Richard Dreyfuss are completely wasted in this movie, appearing for a scant few minutes and in the case of Knoxville, dying a gruesome death. As discussed above, at least Dreyfuss’s casting has some logic to it as it helps to link the film to other Netflix originals, but no discernible logic can be seen in the casting of Knoxville as “guy who dies with boner” as he was probably called in the script.
Notable Corporate Alliances
Constantin produced/packaged this film. They also sold The Silence to Netflix as an AFR original film and produced the Netflix original series The Shadowhunters.
Polar was the first project Netflix made based on intellectual property from Dark Horse comics. The streamer released the series The Umbrella Academy – also based on Dark Horse IP – later in 2019. The two companies recently announced a long term partnership that will see Netflix has first refusal over any Dark Horse related series or film project.