In the land of elite assassins, you are never officially retired. Just ask John Wick. If one manages to survive the deadly life of contract killing, retirement only makes you easier to “take care of.” Except if your name is Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelson).
In Jonas Akerlund’s (Lord of Chaos) Polar, released on Netflix last Friday, Vizla is the assassin hitting the end of the road, an old lion in a business stuffed with younger killers, new weaponry, and advanced technology. For a guy who enjoys the simple life of the great (and very cold) outdoors with a cigarette and DVD attached, all Vizla can manage when the doctor asks about his plans after calling it quits are brooding one-word grunts. A man of action and few words.
The problem is Duncan’s company requires one to retire at age 50, and when Polar opens up, he is 14 days away from his birthday. He’s killed many, saved even more, and the company matches every dime their killers save. The catch is that once they are retired, if something happens to them, let’s just say death, then the company recoups all the money. Put 1 and 2 together, and you have Vizla being chased down by a younger group of assassins.
Here’s the thing. Polar is gloriously tongue in cheek, only getting serious enough before kicking its feet back in front of a fire at night and unleashing highly entertaining action sequences. And let’s face it: you don’t come to a film like Polar asking for poignant outlooks on a life spent in the cold-blooded section. It wouldn’t be a retired gunman story if Vizla didn’t suffer from some post-traumatic-stress of taking out an innocent family, and having nightmares as a result.
You come for the action, and Akerlund and his stunt team take care of you there. The bullets fly, the fists crush, and the blood pours easily in this hot-leaded and tempered world, but the stylistic points and tension during the action score this film high marks. When the young guns come for Duncan, he’s in a rather comprising position. If Viggo Mortenson won accolades for his naked fight scene in Eastern Promises, Mikkelson should get points for rolling around a wooden cabin firing a variety of weapons, even venturing out into sub-zero temps in the nude to finish one killer off.
You may have seen a version of this before, but Akunlund and screenwriter Jayson Rothwell ( who adapted Victor Santos’ graphic novel) layer it up with a unique touch that helps separate it from the pack. After all, the graphic novel was entitled, “Polar: Came from the cold.”
Mikkelson is terrific as Vizla, aka the Black Kaiser. The guy who spits out six words every 30 minutes, but takes out 60 bodies in the process. Wearing all black and carrying a two-day old crop of hair on his face, the Danish actor isn’t your typical Hollywood heartthrob, but that’s not the point. Vizla’s weathered face comes from years of survival and torment. Imagine if Wick smoked a pack a day, and you have this guy.
There’s a healthy dose of “old versus young” here, and I liked the feel. Here you have a guy who was born for the isolated life of a killer who is told to hang his magazines and rifles up–before being hunted down like a dog. He’s not going down without a fight.
And the fights keep on coming. There’s lacerations, gunshot wounds, broken noses, and a few bum knees. Polar is blood drunk and proud of it. Please don’t walk into this flick asking for understated storytelling or an award-worthy cheese plate of nobility. It’s a foot being slammed on the vertical pedal on the right for two hours. Relentless, action-packed, and completely self-aware.
Are there gratuitous sex scenes in between the action? Sure, but if they offend your sensibilities, you may need to take a look at your sex life after the movie is over. Polar is unapologetic in all areas. Just roll with it.
There’s a subplot involving a young girl (Vanessa Hudgens) that Duncan takes under his wing that carries some depth, but there isn’t much time wasted. If you’ve seen Wick, Arnold’s Commando, or The Punisher, you know the quiet won’t last in this guy’s life-and we are the beneficiary of the violent streaks.
While there are some cool supporting turns, the leading man is the glue here. Mikkelson makes it all work. Long known as the bloody-eyed adversary is Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Casino Royale or Galen Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the Danish actor has no problem slipping on the Black Kaiser’s shoes and convincing you instantly that he is this guy. When parts of the film run off the road and start to become too ridiculous, he keeps you locked in and focused. When you have a talent like Mikkelson, you can get a little silly.
If you need some action in your life and it’s too cold outside to go create your own, turn on Netflix and select Polar. Turn off your brain for a couple hours, make some popcorn, and enjoy some guilty pleasure fun with Duncan Vizla. He’ll make your time well spent.
Don’t listen to the other critics who had a bad breakfast. Polar is a good time. It’s loud, dirty, and a whole lot of fun.