Mads Mikkelsen needs to be in more action films!
Synopsis: The world’s top assassin, Duncan Vizla, aka The Black Kaiser, is settling into retirement when his former employer marks him as a liability to the firm. Against his will, he finds himself back in the game going head to head with an army of younger, faster, ruthless killers who will stop at nothing to have him silenced. (Netflix)
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Vanessa Hudgens, and Katheryn Winnick
Writer: Jayson Rothwell
Director: Jonas Åkerlund
Running Time: 118mins
Based on the the film’s promotional material, one other recent action series comes to mind and that is the John Wick series. This comparison is fair but perhaps the biggest difference between Polar and the John Wick series are its main characters. While the first two John Wick films are more or less revenge stories, Polar takes an over-the-hill assassin and forces him to face his old age. The story was about a soon to be retired assassin named Duncan Vizla, aka The Black Kaiser (Mikkelsen). Unfortunately for him, his former employers had other plans, marking him for death.
Over his career, Vizla had earned quite the reputation. We are shown why as the film would feature quick flashes of his former work (those moments would have made a much more interesting film) as he tried to settle down in a small Montana town. The contrast between his former life and that of the small town was like night and day (which was probably why he chose to live there in the first place). The world that Vizla thought he had left behind was just so comically over-the-top, from its characters to its environments. This only made his new small town life feel even more normal in comparison. Watching a man of Vizla’s stature trying to adjust to small town life was quite something to behold but it clearly was not going to last very long.
Vizla would get called back for one last job before retirement and a substantial pay day but it would prove to be a ruse in order to eliminate him as a way to not have to pay him his pension. His employers would eventually learn that eliminating a man known as The Black Kaiser would be easier said than done regardless of his age. Unfortunately, Vizla would have to share the film with the younger team of assassins who were tasked with killing him.
The team’s youthful enthusiasm and ruthlessness was meant to contrast with Vizla’s calm and calculated nature, however, all their different personalities, with some more prevalent than others, made them almost caricaturish and insufferable to watch. Though a large part of the film would be a cat and mouse game between Vizla and the team, it was hard to care about any of them since Vizla was a much more interesting character than any of them (or anybody else for that matter). Also holding Vizla and/or the film bCack was his relationship with a woman named Camille (Hudgens) who had a tragic backstory of her own.
Suffice it to say that the film took a little while to really get going but once it did, it really did. This film was brutal to say the least and did not hold back when it came to its level of violence. Though Vizla may have been getting up there in age, he definitely did not miss a beat. Watching him lay waste to anyone and everyone who stood in his way was incredibly satisfying to watch thanks to some great fight choreography and camera work. It would have been nice to have seen more of it. Ultimately, the film would end with a twist, however, it would not be earned.
The best part of the film, without a doubt, was Mikkelsen’s excellent performance as Vizla. He was compelling to watch thanks to his effortless charm and charisma. He could be doing anything but it’s hard to take your eyes off of him. He was nearly perfect as the strong, silent type. Vizla may have been a man of few words though whenever he spoke, it spoke volumes. Camille may have been an unnecessary character, however, she was still okay and had decent chemistry with Mikkelsen. The award for most random cameo came from Richard Dreyfuss who appears briefly near the end of the film.
Overall, Polar was a good action film that may fail to distance itself from the familiar John Wick film series but it still offers a compelling character piece led by an excellent lead performance from Mads Mikkelsen. He may be getting older but he can still hold his own. Vizla was an interesting character who had some chances to shine, however, the overstuffed story held both him and the film back from realizing its full potential. There was definitely a lot going on here and it may get a little too over-the-top at times but the film was at its best when it focused on him. While the film’s violence will surely not be for everybody, diehard action fans who like their films on the violent side will find plenty to enjoy here.
*Polar will be available on Netflix starting Friday, January 25th*