Review: Polar is John Wick’s most blatant, grotesque, juvenile knock-off

“His hair smelled of a little boy,” as is said in this and in general.

Of the numerous, ever-growing knock-offs of John Wick, Polar is almost certainly the most blatant and egregious facsimile on the market. But at least it’s also the most forthright about it. Just outside the 15-minute mark, Polar‘s lead, Duncan (aka, The Black Kaiser, aka, a thoroughly wasted Mads Mikkelsen) has adopted a dog and, thanks to his fever dream of lame, ’90s MTV imagery recalling a prior job, he subsequently shoots the pet himself. It would seem to be a wink at critics who would make the obvious comparison between this film and the dog-death-centric Wick. Instead, it’s perhaps the only self-aware moment in this completely misguided mobile game of a knockoff Netflix has commissioned.

Familiarly, the film sees Duncan as yet another handsome hitman just hoping to get out of the game (Patriot’s Icabod is even adjacent yet again). He’s just two weeks from a forced retirement and payout at 50—but little does he know, his weirdly corporate hitman company, Damocles, has other ideas. Turns out, they never pay their retirees out, instead sending their younger assassins out to kill the old ones for absurdly legal reasons: though the entire organization is based on MURDER, they also strictly abide by a small-print clause that says any assassin who dies before their age-50 retirement forfeits their pension to the company. Yes, the wholly pension-based, Baby Boomer Wick has arrived. And don’t worry: if Dad drifts off during the premise, ol’ Richard Dreyfuss later shows up to completely spell it out. (Seriously.) Also, don’t worry about how, Looper style, the aging assassins should obviously know and be concerned about this spelled-out system, because they aren’t, so shut up.

John Wick worked for a few reasons: it was extremely streamlined, it had some brilliantly choreographed gun-fu sequences, and it committed to its tongue-in-cheek hitman world. Polar seems to have only understood the final point. It’s a lengthy, absolute mess plot-wise, with Vanessa Hudgens’ character, much ballyhooed in the trailer, serving even less of a purpose than Wick’s dog; she’s just there for a final-act twist so arrogantly setting up a sequel that god forbid it should ever happen. At its best moment, the action approaches a turd of a Daredevil hall fight. And while Polar indeed commits to its asinine vision of a hitman conglomerate and its universe, it does so without even something as passably interesting as Wick’s video game-level exchange of gold coins to an innkeeper.

If you can get through the desperately stylized first half, though, Polar has a few solid, wasted performances hidden behind the scant things it doesn’t lay bare in its insanely extended softcore scenes or wretched violence. (Masturbate to either minutes of weird, lustful sexuality, with literal tits-on-glass shots, or to a man being literally crucified before his testicles are stapled to the wall: your choice!) Mikkelsen is, unsurprisingly, a stronger lead than Keanu Reeves, despite his far poorer action sequences; a dowdy Hudgens dutifully delivers heavy monologues this film in no way deserves; and Little Britain’s Matt Lucas, playing a villain so irrelevant he’s only coming up now, is delightful, chewing scenery from behind an idiotic wig and port-wine stain (even given hair, he apparently always has to have a visible birth anomaly). Meanwhile, the assassins sent after Duncan are memorable only for being mostly attractive, such that one hitwoman gets more shots of her ass than she gets shots from a gun.

Directed by Jonas Åkerlund, Polar is all the worse impulses of Wick co-director David Leitch with few of his redeeming qualities. It’s a movie as recounted by a 12-year-old boy who stayed up to watch a double-feature when his parents went to sleep, recalling the would-be edgy titles and bloody assassinations of Wick, the brief strip club lesbianism (and bloody assassinations) of Atomic Blonde, and none of either film’s already-shallow substance. Yet, despite being slapped on the screen as giddily as a pre-teen’s recollections, Polar is as hollow as Duncan’s plucked-out eye socket.

Grade: D

Director: Jonas Åkerlund
Studio: Netflix
Runtime: 119 minutes
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Vanessa Hudgens, Katheryn Winnick, Matt Lucas

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