By Webster Tilton
The trouble with graphic novel adaptations is that it’s hard to tell when they’re crap. As R rated extensions of the comic book genre, they have essentially zero content restrictions, and they range from trashy to profound. Consequently, it can be difficult to know what they were trying to do. And if you don’t know what they were aiming at it’s hard to gauge if they were off the mark.
My verdict: Polar is…ok-ish. This movie badly needed to pick a lane; cartoony farce or serious. Instead we get an awkward hybrid that runs twenty minutes too long. Watch this movie if you’re in the mood for an abundance of gunfire and aren’t too picky about story structure and character motivations. It isn’t awful, but know what you’re getting into before you set aside time for it. Spoilers ahead, proceed with caution.
Polar is a Netflix original film adaptation from a graphic novel about a hitman named Duncan on the verge of mandatory retirement age from the murder company he works for. Duncan gets targeted for murder by his own employer who is trying to avoid paying his pension. Why not just pay him? Well, the owner of the murder company (Mr. Blut – It’s the German word for blood) would like to sell the business and that giant pension liability is getting in the way of the sale.
Within the context of self-aware-action-schlock I make the following determinations: the action is good, the dialogue is ok, the production value and special effects are fine. The acting by the two leads is noticeably better than this movie deserves. The premise is merely acceptable, but that isn’t what drags the movie down. It’s the story structure that does that.
It has several serious problems, the biggest being a bad case of tonal schizophrenia. Mads Mikkelsen as Duncan and Vanessa Hudgens as Camille play the lead characters completely straight whereas every other character in the film is played cartoonishly. It felt like someone was channel surfing back and forth between HBO and MTV.
Movies about a hitman trying to go straight are an entire sub-genre and they all have to humanize a professional murderer and get the audience on their side. Polar does this by following the standard checklist: 1) establish that he mostly kills other criminals 2) establish that he wants to stop and 3) give him someone to protect. Nothing remotely original. But there was one part of Duncan’s redemption arc that I appreciated; he doesn’t expect anyone to forgive him and he doesn’t complain, resist or make excuses when one of his victims comes calling. He accepts responsibility in the way you would want someone to if they’d ruined your life forever.
The last problem (appropriately) is the ending. Since Blut has an army at his disposal, the army has to be disposed of before Duncan can get his revenge and rescue the girl. Sorry. Spoiler alert? Did anyone not predict that?
Anyway, Blut’s army obligingly walks into an ambush and gets wiped out. The movie braces us for a brutal battle royal…and then it doesn’t happen. Even faithfulness to the source material doesn’t excuse this tsunami of stupidity. If that’s what was in the graphic novel, then it should have been changed for the film. But I suspect that what happened was that the director realized the running time was getting too long and decided to push the easy button. Then the film closes out with a kinda-sorta reconciliation between Duncan and Camille which flat out tells us that there’ll be a sequel…whether anyone wants it or not.