Mads Mikkelsen stars as Duncan Vizla, aka The Black Kaiser, in the latest offering from Jonas Åkerlund – Polar. Based on the Dark Horse graphic novel “Polar: Came From the Cold”, this is Åkerlund’s fifth feature film, after Spun, Horseman, Small Apartments and another recent release – Lords of Chaos.
Polar focuses on Vizla’s retirement from being an assassin. He’s almost 50, and wants to relax and enjoy what life he has left, however, his boss – Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas of Little Britain fame) – does not want to pay him what he is owed and sends some of his younger assassins to take him out. Vanessa Hudgens is the Black Kaiser’s neighbour, Camille, whom also gets dragged into the action, with Vikings’ Katheryn Winnick on board as Mr. Blut’s trusted but not often ignored advisor.
In the film, Mikkelsen (or maybe it’s Vizla) is a bit of a bore as Duncan Vizla. This isn’t because he gives a bad performance, it’s because Vizla is the opposite of the rest of the film. Polar is over the top and Vizla is a cold, calm and calculating assassin. I have not read the comic so I am unsure if this is how Vizla is supposed to be written but he seems to be a bit out of place here. In the right film, the character would actually be great. Having said that, there is a hilarious scene where he tries to teach a bunch of school kids a thing or two about the world at the behest of his neighbour Camille. His world is completely different to theirs, and what he has to say has no place in a school whatsoever.
Hudgens portrayal of Camille is well done. She is similar to Vizla in the energy she provides to the film, only it’s clear that her character is in some way suffering from some sort of psychological pain. Knowing and feeling her pain, from the way Camille jumps at sudden noises and movements, Hudgens gives the best and most honest performance in the film. Winnick is good value as Vivian, she is commanding and direct but also playful, while Matt Lucas a Mr. Blut really isn’t providing anything he didn’t in Little Britain – except for the blood and torture.
Polar is (mostly) a fast paced action film with some great action for you to sink your teeth into. Epic shootouts that end up with Duncan laying naked in the snow with a sniper rifle ready to take out his would-be killers are fun to watch and they’re also super gory but, on some level, it doesn’t deliver what it’s trying to. It seems to be trying to offer this explosive energy that makes the film more fun, but the main character is a dull, ageing killer for hire who had enough. These two things really clash and it effects the dynamic of the film.
On top of this, the team of assassins that are used to hunt Duncan down are annoying and make no sense. Duncan is a complete professional – smart, skilled and ruthless, and while the younger assassins have age on their side, as well as being ruthless, they seem to be unprepared in most situations. They’re completely crazy, which is a part of the high energy that Åkerlund seems intent on trying to present, but ultimately he fails to deliver it. There are also a lot of torture scenes in the film, it isn’t for the faint of heart, but the scenes themselves are done well. Mr. Blut is completely callous in the way he goes about it. Day after day of cuts, punches and whacks to his victim, you almost start to feel it yourself.
Keep an eye out for Johnny Knoxville as well, his character is funny, full of energy but in the end just can’t seem to keep it up – much like Polar itself. While it doesn’t quite deliver in the way it seems to intended to, the action scenes are great fun and how fast paced it is does make up for it just enough for Polar to be enjoyable.
Director: Jonas Åkerlund
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Vanessa Hudgens, Matt Lucas
Writer: Jayson Rothwell, (based on a graphic novel by Victor Santos)