My review: what are you waiting for? Just watch it.
Kidding. As Official Reviewer of Mads Mikkelsen films at Nightmarish Conjurings (copyright pending), I have more to say on this matter than that, but really, you can just watch it and enjoy a somewhat gonzo movie with all the things you love about Mads Mikkelsen or finally understand the Mikkelsen mystique, which is actually based in how much of a disciplined, internal, and skilled actor he really is. Yes, his cheekbones are always a factor, but believe me, he is much more than just that. Plus, there’s lots of gore, violence, good fight scenes, loads of weaponry, some really hot and graphic sex scenes, one very funny dick joke, and naked Mads in the snow.
The set-up is like so; Mikkelsen plays an aging hitman whose company has a mandatory retirement age of 50. He does not know how mandatory that retirement really is, but we find out in the amusing opening moments of the movie. Mikkelsen plays Duncan Vizla, The Black Kaiser, a loner who constantly gets roasted for being who he is, but patiently and quietly waits for people to make fatal mistakes. We get to see the machinations ratcheting up against him and his placid surface seems to betray no anxiety, but the internal Mikkelsen suggests that perhaps Vizla knows more than he is saying.
Duncan is offered a job that he robustly refuses for some very good reasons which are all correct. He takes it against his better judgment and turns out to be a truly formidable force that everyone except one person has seriously misjudged. You would think with a nickname like the Black Kaiser, people would have known this, but some people in the world can be very successful while still being somewhat stupid and very arrogant. He begins his retirement by disappearing completely and his own personal hit squad starts tracking him and the games begin.
After John Wick, most people are going to compare any hitman movie, especially one with a hitman with extraordinary abilities and brooding loner tendencies to that same film. However, POLAR is based on a graphic novel by Victor Santos from Dark Horse Comics that started as a webcomic in 2012. John Wick was released in 2014. The comic was stark, using the colors of black, white, and orange only and featured no dialogue bubbles, that the author has described as being influenced by action films and noirs like the films of Jean-Pierre Melville, specifically Le Samourai, and Seijun Suzuki, specifically Tokyo Drifter.
POLAR is directed by Jonas Åkerlund, fomer rock musician and music video and feature film director, who directed Spun and Lords of Chaos. The film has two distinct styles or modes, the in your face and colorful black comedy of the hit squad and their boss and the quieter and more somber world of Duncan Vizla and his admittedly sub-polar world. The two inevitably crash into each other and we are treated to many fight scenes, including the near obligatory hallway fight scene – a direct line from the big daddy scenes from Oldboy and The Raid. This one isn’t quite that level, but it is pretty darn good. It co-stars Vanessa Hudgens, who is quite affecting, Katherine Winnick, Ruby O’Fee, and Fei Rein as bad ass female assassins (and one honeypot), along with Richard Dreyfuss, in a nearly unrecognizable, blink or you’ll miss it, but sly role.
While many of the tropes of the hit man sub-genre are here, they are used and subverted in interesting ways. These in-jokes and references are not of the heavily self-reverential type, so I approve of them, especially the very specific John Wick joke.
POLAR tells a somewhat familiar story with style, verve, and humor and the absolutely smashing presence and talent of the great Mads Mikkelsen. He executive produced the film, so you should know that he is one hilarious dude. Watch and get to see a movie that is fun as fuck and still has moments of heart and pathos that are genuinely earned.
POLAR is now available to stream on Netflix.