Movie Review : Polar (2019)
People don’t normally watch terrible movies on purpose. Mediocre ones perhaps, but terrible movies require certain circumstances. For Josie and I, it usually go like this: we’re sitting on the couch after dinner, bickering over what to watch because there’s nothing that really interests either of us on Netflix. After thirty minutes or so, we settle on a title in one of us’ backlist and end up mildly disappointed, like when you try to have sex after too much wine. But once every blue moon, the film just fucking sucks. Jonas Akerlund’s adaptation of Dark Horse Comics’ property Polar is one of these films. It’s an absolute shit show.
Polar is the story of legendary hitman Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen), who’s forced into retirement by his employer at age 50. Company policy. The said company has a retirement fund employees can contribute to and Duncan is owed a whopping eight million bucks, which his boss Blut (a particularly grotesque Matt Lucas) has no intention of paying whatsoever. See, Blut is attempting to sell the company he inherited from his father and intends on showing a healthy profit to potential buyers. So he puts a hit on his best asset. Because Duncan’s retirement is apparently a hindrance to his own. Egocentric behavior is a recurring theme here, you’ll see.
Fuck, where do I start?
Well, I was able to resume the entire plot of Polar without revealing the existence of Camille (an otherwise great Vanessa Hudgens). She’s an “important” part of the movie. Her character gets ungodly amounts of screen time because she’s supposed to humanize Duncan and make him likable. Camille is a clumsy, helpless neighbor who dresses like Oliver Twist and looks like she’s got severe PTSD. Duncan first helps her cut and cord her firewood like a real old school man would. Stereotypical, but harmless right? But the problem starts here: it kicks off an unlikely friendship that doesn’t make him come off as humane and likable at all.
Let me explain: Duncan is under grave danger. He has a hit on his head and the best hitmen in the world are coming for him. Therefore, the nice thing to do with Camille is to simply leave her out of it. To move out and keep her out of the line of fire until his retirement problem is solved. But Duncan doesn’t do that because he uses Camille to convince himself he’s a good person. Perhaps it’s best exemplified in the hollow and humorless scene where Duncan speaks to Sunday school children on behalf of Camille. He openly brags about his hitman skills and tells the children about the casual horrors of his job like it’s supposed to be funny or heartwarming.
I mean, if you thought it was cute you’re probably a serial killer.
See, I just spent to paragraphs breaking down how much of a clusterfuck Polar’s attempt to humanize Duncan was, but it’s just one of its problems*. This movie is misogynist and fetishizes violence in a pretty fucked up way. It’s perhaps best illustrated in Blut’s employees, which are laughable stereotypes: the slut, the dominatrix, the track suit-wearing Russian and the Mexican sicario. They spend most of Polar going after people that have nothing to do with the story (Duncan’s accountant and tenants), executing them in long, drawn out and needlessly colorful scenes.
Don’t get me wrong, I like violence in movies as much as the next guy. But it needs to carry a certain weight in order to be felt. Blut’s hired killers murder people like they’re beating elementary school kids at dodgeball. It’s not emotionally confronting at all. Passed a certain point, you just want them to leave these characters alone. They don’t have any bearing on the story. They’re just killed for the sake of it in and ugly, grotesque and drawn out fashion. That shit gets heavy after a while. A hitman movie like Polar can’t exactly not fetishize violence, but it could at least not hand it out without any narrative or aesthetic purpose.
The only witty thing about Polar is the reference to John Wick at the beginning, where Duncan accidentally shoots his dog. That got a laugh out of me. It was a little crude, but Jonas Akerlund has balls to tell his movie would be different from the movie everyone would compare it to. But it quickly went downhill from there. Polar is hollow, nasty and pretty much bottom of the barrel as far as plot OR characters go. I would go as far as to call it an embarrassing and dehumanizing cesspool of a film. I watched it so you don’t have to or so you can hate-watch with an informed opinion.
* Take a hitman movie like John Wick, for example. Wick is humanized right off the bat. He was in the freakin’ trailer. His wife died. The mob killed his dog, so he’s exerting vengeance because he can do something about it. Wick is grieving out of his mind and he goes on a killing spree to purge his feelings. If this isn’t cathartic, I don’t know what is.