Based on a Dark Horse graphic novel and starring cinematic dark horse Mads Mikkelsen, Polar is a vulgar, brightly-colored adult comic book brought to life. It’s well-made dumb fun, an escalating series of violent encounters between Mikklesen’s quiet brute, the Black Kaiser, and a silly cadre of assassins working for his former hitman-for-hire company. The story is old hat, an old gunner hangin’ it up only to have his old employer hunt him for reasons that are best described as convoluted. You could be forgiven for mistaking Polar for a John Wick copycat, complete with a semi-bad guy telling the big bad guy not to fuck with our bad ass main character. The execution is questionable, sometimes reveling in death and the blood of innocents, making funny out of poor fools getting shot for no reason. Polar is a dirty movie and it knows it, choosing to indulge in male gaze and bloody excess for shits and giggles, and I kinda liked it. I felt dirty after, but that’s the point, ain’t it? These are made for provocation, not advocacy.
In 2019, cinematic middle fingers are rare, cast aside for political means and a distaste for mean at a time when Twitter and the Trump presidency has made cynical, straight male indulgences uncouth. I’m sympathetic to these concerns, but we can’t treat every film or piece of art like some grand moral statement. And I might hate Polar were it not for chutzpah and Denmark’s favorite son as Mr. Kaiser, a man of few words and little charisma, yet captivating nonetheless. There’s also Vanessa Hudgens as a troubled neighbor in a snowy mountain small town Kaiser has retreated to for solace. She’s a young actress with more to prove and prove it she does. Johnny Knoxville and Richard Dreyfuss pop up in lively cameos, but more than anything, it’s simply fun watching this old man dismantle a regime of disgusting people, chief of all Matt Lucas as the villainous Mr. Blut. As a walking combo of grotesque character traits, Lucas is so gross and detestable that he’s almost grating, like bloody knives on a chalkboard. As revenge films do, that makes Kaiser’s journey all the more involving as we wait for the inevitable massacre.