If you’re a fan of comic book films, you’d be forgiven for missing the release of Polar. Firstly, you’ve probably never heard of the graphic novel, of the same name, originally a webcomic released in January 2012.
Secondly, this was no cinema release, merely arriving on Netflix, available to all subscribers. But if you’ve found the film, you’ve discovered quite a unique piece of cinema.
From the posters, Polar is set up as a Mads Mikkelson film, each image showing him alone against a dark background. Instead of jumping in with the protagonist, Duncan Vizla/ Black Kaiser (Mad Mikkelson), the director, Jonas Åkerlund, instead begins the film by panning over a stylized, verdant green forest and approaching a mountainous vista, highlighted by a blue sky, in which a solitary mansion stands.
This beauty is quickly broken by gunshots and a scream as the title appears on the screen and becomes covered in blood spatter.
Instead of introducing Duncan Visla, we are instead introduced to Michael Green, who is lounging outside his mansion, watching Sindy (Ruby O. Fee) emerging scantily clad from the swimming pool. Facundo (Anthony Grant), Hilde (Fei Ren), Alexei (Josh Cruddas) and Karl (Robert Maillet) join Sindy in assassinating Green.
The whole scene is jovial as September, by Earth, Wind and Fire, plays which the five assassins begin to sing as they depart in a helicopter.
Meeting Visla is in direct contrast to the jolly assassination scene that precedes it. The skyline of Seattle is shown as thunder rumbles and cuts to Visla in a hospital looking down a list of his previous injuries, which he then adds to.
Over the next ten minutes, Visla’s backstory is opened up, you learn everything down to his ’14 days’ to retirement and how much his pension is going to be.
At this point, the film seems to move away from the action and become a character-driven drama, during which the complicated father/daughter/love interest relationship begins with Camille (Vanessa Hudgens).
If it wasn’t obvious enough already from the opening, meeting Vivian (Katheryn Winnick) and Blut (Matt Lucas) makes it explicit that Visla has to die to save company his $8 million pensions.
Though the opening of the movie is nothing but slow, when the action comes, it is fantastically brutal. After 30 minutes of painting Visla as a sad loner who is close to retirement, demonstrating the mental effects of his life as an assassin and making it explicit on a number of occasions that he is not supposed to survive until retirement, the Black Kaiser finally gets to work.
His would-be killer, and the person he is sent to ‘assassinate’ is quickly nail-gunned to the wall, his accomplices shot and Visla begins to drill into his skull in order to get some information.
The film then becomes a strange mix of Visla getting to know Camille better and the group of five assassins from the beginning of the film gratuitously killing the tenants in Visla’s properties.
The weirdest moment of the film though has to be the scene where Visla is talking to a class of children, basically giving them a lesson on how to be an assassin while the teacher watches from the back looking slightly unsure.
This scene is used to look back at Visla’s career kills in an odd and unrealistic sequence that jars the viewer into confusion.
From the hour mark, onwards the film shifts into shear gratuitous violence. Amazing sex come fight scene sees Visla dispatch four of the five-man team in the nude and in the snow.
Uncomfortable to say the least. He learns that Alexei has kidnapped Camille and goes seeking information. He meets an old assassin friend, Porter (Richard Dreyfuss), who touches his hand and Visla collapses.
What follows is extended, dragged out torture scene during which Visla loses an eye. Rather disbelievingly, after 3 days of torture Visla manages to pick his locks using the end of a knife he pulls from his own body and is superhumanly able to dispatch the entre team of Blut’s guards, including receiving a few more wounds to add to his collection.
After meeting a further assassin friend, Visla makes a quick recovery and sets himself up with some new hardware. As the film approaches a final, climactic standoff, Visla has something up his sleeve.
His laser pointer gloves attached to some freestanding machine guns allowing him to kill the entirety of Blut’s army in less than 5 seconds, without them even getting a shot off. It is impressive if anticlimactic action scene.
With twenty minutes of the film left, you’d be forgiven in thinking there would be a further action scene as Visla has a final showdown with Blut. However, you’d be wrong.
Blut’s final group of guards merely run away, Visla picks up an ax, Blut a gun, and a sword, then … cut to the external of the building where Blut’s head flies out of the window and lands in the foreground.
The final part of the film is an emotional confrontation between Visla and Camille, where we learn he’d killed her family, she threatens to kill him and then chooses not to.
At the close, they are sat outside Visla’s cabin as he smokes a cigarette. An interesting end to a movie that seems to have multiple personalities, with all of the action in the middle and a severe lack of it for long periods at the beginning and end.
Overall, I have to say I really enjoyed this film and would recommend giving it a watch. The action sequences were creative and imaginative and very well executed.
I enjoyed most of the non-action parts of the film too and the in-depth character works about Visla and Camille.
I would only warn that the main storyline is very predictable from early on, there are a few moments that felt jarring and that they didn’t fit (especially the school classroom scene) and be prepared for long parts where not a lot happens, contrasted with short, sharp shots of action and brutality.