Polar – a review

     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. 

 

Atomic Meh – a review

Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron and featuring James McAvoy, Toby Jones and John Goodman is the directorial effort – a full debut if you will allow – of David Leitch. Leitch, an actor, stuntman, writer and producer, came to prominence as one of the co-directors on the brilliant Keanu Reeves starrer, John Wick. With its simple premise and brisk execution, John Wick was one of the best action films to come out in the last few years.
One of the reasons for its success was given as the expertise of its two directors in stunt work and action set piece coordination. This expertise is evident in Atomic Blonde. Every fight scene, almost as impressive as John Wick, is fluid and kinetic, the sound design implemented perfectly for every punch, kick, knee and bullet. There is one fight sequence towards the end of the film that is so gratifyingly violent it is almost worth the admission price on its own.
The statuesque Theron is perfectly cast as Lorraine Broughton – not the greatest spy name – an MI6 operative sent into cold war Germany, in nineteen eighty-nine, to retrieve a list that contains a list of all the undercover operatives in Europe. The situation is complicated by fractious East/West relations as the Berlin wall is seen as the symbol of oppression that it was and some other nonsense wherein the operative who had the list was an old flame of Lorraine. Lorraine is told her contact in Berlin is David Percival (McAvoy) an agent who has been undercover for some time in Berlin.
Cards on the table, I must admit I did not love this film. It was by no means terrible or even bad. It was just okay. The biggest problem is the convoluted story. The ‘missing list’ story has been done so many times it is becoming its own sub-genre! It was done fantastically in Skyfall and to great comedic effect in Spy. In Atomic Blonde, the list is seen as so vital that every covert agency and nefarious group in the world wants it. I, however, didn’t care.
A spy ‘thriller’, punctuated with some great action scenes, Atomic Blonde is unnecessarily complex in the story with one never sure if any character is who they purport to be. It also utilises a, in my opinion, detrimental style in the telling of the story, with a beat up looking Lorraine recalling the events in a debriefing meeting, post mission. The story is shown in flashback, interspersed with tension free moments of her being questioned in the present.
As far as I can see, the title of the film only serves as reference to Theron’s stylistic nod to eighties Debbie Harry and – a little misguidedly – her explosive fighting style. I say it’s misguided because – and I cannot emphasise this enough – it is not an action film. There is too much Tinker, Tailor and not enough Die Hard for it to be a true action film, which is a pity because, as I alluded to earlier, the fight scenes are truly spectacular.
With the talent on show the acting is, of course, top class. McAvoy as the caddish Percival is probably the standout alongside Theron’s Lorraine, though I feel Sofia Boutella as the callow French spy Delphine Lasalle is very good, she is not served by an underwritten character. The story also suffers from – especially in the first hour – pedestrian pacing, the constant back and forth really slowing things down.
Roland Moller, who plays the chief antagonist, Aleksander Bremovych, is basically asked to deliver a clichéd villain’s performance, with his introduction, by – believe me this not much of a spoiler – killing a quivering youth with a skateboard, is so heavily signposted it fails to elicit any real impact. After his show of Alpha maleness, he is barely seen for the rest of the film.
Technically Atomic Blonde is very good. So uninspired by the story unfolding on the screen was I that I was able to appreciate the deliberate silver-whiteness of the colour palette, aiding the eighties feel of the film. Though I liked the sound design in general, I did not love the soundtrack. Having said that, Theron’s Lorraine using George Michael as a sound suppressant in one fight scene was inspired.
Atomic Blonde is not the worse way to spend two hours and I would even say the fight scenes are worth the admission price, but if you were hoping for an engaging story and action flick, Atomic Blonde misses the mark.