I think its safe to say that we are living in the age where every studio is going to cash in on something that is very popular, well at least attempt to cash in on something popular. As I watched "Polar," a new Netflix original, I thought to myself. "Man, this feels like a poor man's John Wick."
I think that might be the best description of "Polar." It is a poor man's "John Wick."
One of the reasons why "John Wick" rose in popularity is because it mixed a great action movie with some really cool style and flair. You can get yourself a revenge fantasy anywhere, but the world presented in John Wick was not only gritty but hyper-stylized. It doesn't really feel like a real world, but it doesn't have to necessarily. Its all in fun, but its that grounded style that makes people come back for more and why we patiently await a third chapter in this hopefully neverending saga.
There is a fine line between hyper-stylized and cartoon that a movie can walk. You can also walk a fine line in violence too. How much gore is too much, how many deaths in weird ways is enough to constitute as a joke? Should I be disturbed or thrilled by what I am watching? The "John Wick" movies treat those lines with respect. While "Polar" just kind jumps off these lines like a wrestler competing for a Cruiserweight championship belt. "Polar" is absolutely confused if it wants to be fun or stylish or gritty, so it tries a little too hard to do all of those at the same time. There is some nauseating violence in the movie, but bad guys so cartoonish, that they don't belong in a movie that is serious. But is the movie serious?
It is your typical revenge fantasy fair, as far as these movies go. An assassin played by Mads Mikkelsen is one of the top assassins in the world. He wants out of the life. His employers think he is a liability. So they send even better assassins to kill him. He must defend his own life. Pretty simple stuff, stuff we've seen before. I am not basing this review on originality, because at this point, most revenge movies are created equal. We either follow an assassin who wants out of the life, or by chance somebody's family is killed or a woman finds empowerment after a horrible rape. That's usually how these movies go. So I try to look at execution.
As far as execution goes, its all over the place. There is a point where violence is gross. There is a point where hyper-stylization becomes self-parody. There is a point where you don't know if you are supposed to take the characters seriously or not. I don't mind either way, but when you refuse to set a foundation or rules to the story, it loses me. There are some good performances, the cast overall keeps things hammy and for the most part, it works. There is some thrilling action, kind of, I think the moves used are moves we see of any standard assassin. There is a scene where Mikkelsen puts on laser point gloves that control two huge machine guns, that was pretty awesome. Otherwise, the action is pretty standard.
The more I think about it, the more I think "John Wick" is setting a new standard for these types of movies and how so many movies that come after it look like mere imitations.
FINAL GRADE: C