In one of the scenes in “Polar”, an assassin team which looks more like “Lord Shiva’s wedding entourage” unleashes wrath on a skinny 80 year old man by puncturing his left eye and then pulverizing him with automatic weapons. Only because he happens to be the accountant of Duncan Vizla aka “The Black Kaiser” who has become a liability to the same organization ( Damocles) where he and the entourage works. The scene is gory to the hilt but gives a glimpse of the world to the viewer in which he/she is being tempted into.
Imagine some ultra bright color palate in each and every sequence with more and more blood oozing out like liquid chocolate out of a Domino’s choco lava cake and bingo! You know exactly what you are getting into.
Movies featuring an out of work sniper/hitman have resurfaced/ surfaced many a time in Hollywood films. It is very tough to find new characters and let them create their own worlds in today’s superhero/action genre of films. For example, Shooter, American Sniper, John Wick, Taken are all films of this genre. “Polar” imbibes a lot of these films but also creates its own unique world.
“Polar” based on the bestselling comic book of the same name by Victor Santos (published by Dark Horse Entertainment) and produced by Constantin Films with Netflix is an escape into the colorfully deranged world of contract killing and non stop seduction. The film stars action star Mads Mikklesen (Casino Royale, Hannibal), Vanessa Hudgens, and Richard Dreyfuss. The film also features original music by thespian DJ (deadmau5) which can be found on Youtube and Amazon Music in India.
This post is aimed at reviewing “Polar” and exploring the craft/ look and feel of the genre of graphic novels based films.
‘Polar’: The Plot
Polar talks about the story of retired contract killer Dominic Vizla (Mads Mikklesen) aka “The Black Kaiser” who works for gangster/fashion junkie Mr Blut and his syndicate called “Damocles”. As Vizla is about to retire and cash in his $ 8 Million pension from Blut, Damocles turns rogue on him as he is “high cost exit” for them and hence Blut orders a hit on Vizla to save the ‘measly’ money by sending a squad of high rate assassins to kill him. The rest of the movie is the cat and mouse chase between Vizla and Blut’s entourage until the very end of the film. In between, Vizla develops affection for his next door neighbor played by Vanessa Hudgens who has crossed Vizla’s life before and has her own secret.
The Storytelling of Graphic Novels
“300”, “Watchmen”, “Sin City” franchise, “The Spirit” are all well known graphic novel adaptations on the big screen. The real challenge for a filmmaker is to create a walk through the comic book pages but also create a motion perspective as well. Eg. The Introduction of Each character is highlighted. Big titles come every now and then to give headlines to locations, names, time etc. Also the swag has to be scientifically placed with the lead characters Eg Vizla looks far more cooler with an eye patch as compared to when he has both his eyes. There is a concerted effort to make him look cool and stylish. Stylization of sequences is key here as the comic book also does that effectively. For a good Director it is imperative to ensure that the basic storytelling doesn’t get overpowered by these stylization tools. “Polar” is a unique comic as it uses only black/white/orange as its main colors in illustration so Director Jonas Akerlund has to create a strategy to juggle back and forth between BWO and regular colors. The fun part is that Akerlund does this beautifully. I highly recommend watching the movie in a reasonably lit up place as the film chooses a wide variety of colors in each frame.
“Polar” action and music
Polar as the name suggests is set in cold places. It shows the main protagonist retiring in a cabin. As Dominic Vizla was a top shot hitman, the film features the very best of machine guns, revolvers, axes, darts and what not….the film goes on a sheer kill fest at regular intervals. Over a dozen innocent, harmless people are mercilessly butchered and it gets terribly pathetic at one point. Once Mikklesen/ Vizla comes on the screen, they do the killing with some panache.
To amplify this hyper violent film and yet give some human moments in it, Deadmau5 gives the background score which is superb and extremely energetic. The whole soundtrack captures the psyche of Vizla/The Black Kaiser beautifully. The track “Drama Free” featuring lights is very catchy. I feel this would have been a boring story if this music wasn’t there.
If there is any reason you should invest 97 minutes in watching this movie, it has to be for the screen persona of Mads Mikklesen and the uber cool soundtrack of Deadmau5. In one of the scenes in the movie, he is literally crucified inch by inch but Mikklesen is stoic and silent even here! His presence brings a sense of calm into this inherently chaotic story of blood splatter and revenge. Mikklesen’s swag gets a boost in a scene where a group of dozens of first rate assassins come to kill him and he offers to spares their female ring leader (his ex) and says “ I would like to give you a chance to walk out of here alive for old times sake….” . Gets a bit Bollywoodian here…..doesnt it?? But Mikklesen like Rajnikanth just chugs along.
Vanessa Hudgens does a fine job in playing his neighbor and sort of companion. The rest of the cast is hamming like nobody’s business. Johnny Knoxville in a ridiculous cameo as well as Richard Dreyfuss are just wasted!
Final Verdict on “Polar”
This film is made for only graphic novels/ Quentin Tarantino/ hyper violence enthusiasts. Its made for a niche audience. The film works very well in the aesthetics/look feel and the action departments but falters in the acting area where except Mikklelsen and Hudgens no one does anything impactful. The hyper violence also obstructs the narrative. I would give this film a 5/10 purely for Mads Mikklesen, the action, the production design and deadmau5’s soundtrack. “Polar” is a good one time watch for very specific audiences.
- Rahul Gupta, an avid movie and TV buff who learnt movie production at New York Film Academy and worked as a talent manager at The Gotham Group in Hollywood. In addition he runs a kids brand outfit and a start up fundraising practice in New Delhi.
(The views expressed in the article above are those of the author.)