If you were to take John Wick film and splice it with Kill Bill 2, the bloodier of the two-parter, and it was directed by a Guy Richie protege, who hadn’t quite got the grasp of subtlety, you would get something close to Polar, the Netflix film starring Mads Mikkelsen, last seen opposite Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange, in the MCU’s Doctor Strange, and Vanessa Hudgens, moving away from her Disney roots.
Duncan Vizla (Mikkelsen) is a retiring assassin for the Damocles corporation. He is trying to get his affairs in order before his retirement in two weeks. He speaks to Vivian (Katheryn Winnick), right hand to the head of the corporation, Blut (Matt Lucas), to find out who killed Michael Green (Johnny Knoxville), a recently retired assassin.
Vivian tells him it was a hit by some Russians and that the corporation wants him to kill the people. Vizla declines. Vivian says they will double the payment. He still declines. Vivian tells Blut. Blut tells her that she needs to get him on board.
Blut is planning to sell the business but Vizla’s retirement could put a spanner in the works as they have to give him a retirement payout, unless he dies, in which case it goes to the company. Vivian persuades Vizla to take the job.
Vizla, suspicious of the job, does the job without telling Vivian. Whilst doing the job, he finds out he had been set up and was the intended victim. He calls Vivian and asks if she knows anything about the hit on him. She says she does not. Vivian tells Blut, who sends the crew that killed Green – Hilde (Fei Ren), Sindy (Ruby O Fee), Karl (Robert Maillet), Facundo (Anthony Grant) and Alexei (Josh Cruddas) – to kill Vizla’s.
Vizla has disappeared to a remote cottage in Montana, Triple Oak. Up in Triple Oak, every time Vizla falls asleep he suffers a nightmare from a previous job. In a cabin opposite lives a single woman, Camille (Vanessa Hudgens), a wildlife photographer. Camille is quiet, haunted. They become friendly.
After killing their way through possible leads, the assassins find out Vizla is in Triple Oak and head down to Montana. After a little surveillance, they find him and follow him back to his cabin. Sindy pretends to be broken down and Vizla picks her up and takes her back to the cabin.
She keeps him occupied as Karl, Hilde and Facundo plan an assault. It does not go to plan and Vizla kills them all. Alexei, meanwhile, has executed plan B and kidnapped Camille. Vizla goes after him. Blut is furious after finding out that Vizla has killed all the other assassins, especially Hilde, who was his lover.
Vizla goes to see Porter (Richard Dreyfuss) an old assassin acquaintance. Unfortunately, he is double-crossed and ends up in Blut’s clutches. Blut tortures him for days, planning to kill him. Vizla escapes and goes on a killing spree. He goes to another friend, Jazmin (Ayisha Issa), who patches him up and supplies him with weapons.
Vizla returns to the mansion where he was being held and after killing another small battalion of Blut’s men, kills Blut and rescues Camille. Camille, who had been pumped full of heroin whilst captive, is nursed back to health by Vizla. She pulls a gun on him and tells him that she sees his face whenever she closes her eyes, as he killed her whole family.
Vizla tells her to shoot him, she cannot. She asks if he could find the people who ordered the hit on her father, he tells her maybe. They form an uneasy alliance. The end.
Directed by Jonas Ãkerlund, Polar is an entertaining if slightly uneven film. Mikkelsen, Hudgens and Winnick and Lucas are good in their respective roles. Mikkelsen is especially good as the stoic Duncan Vizla. Hudgens, in a somewhat heavier role, less pretty, is good if a little underused, her character showing glimpses of some dark past, which we do not find out about until, frustratingly, the last minutes of the film.
Matt Lucas, far better known for comedy, is a fine actor in serious roles and is, in part, good in Polar. Unfortunately, the way the film is directed, some of it seems done for comedy effect, whilst other parts are fully R rated. Instead of letting the natural comedy of the script, by Jayson Rothwell based off of the graphic novel of the same name by Victor Santos, come to the fore.
The assassin group or clan is a well-worn trope in comics and movies. From Bond films to the brilliant John Wick series and the Kill Bill films to The Hand in Frank Miller’s Daredevil Elektra sags run, the secret assassin organisation has always been a great story device.
In Polar, however, the assassin organisation is not used particularly well, with the group of young assassins a bit cartoonish and over the top, adding to the feel of the film not quite knowing whether it is a comedic thriller or a straight-up drama.
Polar is not a perfect film, but it is watchable and, in the action scenes, highly entertaining. There are some gratuitous bloody scenes, which the more squeamish might balk at, but overall, it is an enjoyable one hundred minutes to waste on Netflix.