If the job doesn't kill you, retirement will


When a retiring assassin realizes he is the target of a hit, he winds up back in the game going head to head with a gang of younger, ruthless killers.

Title Polar
Director Jonas Åkerlund
Director of Photography Pär M. Ekberg
Runtime 1 h 59 min
Certification R
Release Date 25 January 2019
Tagline If the job doesn't kill you, retirement will
IMDb Id tt4139588

So first of all you have to go into this movie with the right mindset: it is a graphic novel adaptation, and it is as violent as Jonh Wick, as over the top as Crank, and the lead is played by Mads Mikkelsen. What more can one ask for if you’re in the mood for a fun, brainless actioner?

Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen), better know as Black Kaiser, is a top assassin who’s counting down the days to his retirement; he has built up a healthy pension of some $8m which he will receive in a few weeks time. In anticipation of this, Kaiser has retreated to his backcountry cabin where he befriends his new neighbour Camille (Vanessa Hudgens). Unbeknownst to Kaiser however, his boss Blut (Matt Lucas) has figured that if Kaiser dies before his retirement he won’t have to pay him this handsome sum of money, so he sends out a gang of killers to take care of it. Of course, not all goes as planned, and not all is as it seems…

The film is directed by Jonas Åkerlund, whose career to date has primarily been in the music industry – he has made music videos for Lady Gaga, Metallica, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Pussy Riot, The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Pink, Mika, Maroon 5, Christina Aguillera and many more. That pedigree shows in the movie: every scene is hyper-stylised and visually impactful. I am happy Åkerlund hired a movie editor and not a music video editor – so while the action gets frantic at times, the editing does not; and thank god: no shaky cam.

There is much to enjoy in this movie: there is plenty of action, the cinematography is beautiful, the pacing is spot on and Mads Mikkelsen looks great as the brooding assassin. The score is somewhat disappointing: composed and performed by Deadmau5, it isn’t quite as powerful and on the mark as would have befitted this comic book actioner.

But the main issue I have with the movie is that is a tale of two styles. One the one hand we have the set-up, the brooding assassin, the ominous atmosphere, the tickening plot, the violent action, all dark and moody and menacing. On the other hand we have the comic book origins jumping off the screen when Blut’s band is hunting down Kaiser, and even more so in all scenes involving Blut himself – the colour palette, the camera angles, the acting – we jump from the clandestine to the clownesque.

Matt Lucas’ interpretation of the ‘baddie’ isn’t very good and it distracts and detracts from the entire experience. I wish Blut had been more Heath Ledger’s Joker than Jack Nicholson’s; instead he is more Gargamel than he is Loki. The scenes where Blut and Kaiser face-off directly are not very credible and not only does Matt Lucas not manage to pull off ‘threatening’ or ‘evil’, Mads Mikkelsen also seems to completely forget how to act whenever he has to endure Lucas’ cartoonish efforts. Despite the intended shock value of their main scene together, it is actually a disappointing lowlight of the movie.

The two styles just jar with another in an unpleasant way; it would have been better to pick one or the other: either go all out over the top too cartoony, or go in deep all menacing and broody. The latter would by far have had my preference as it works really really well for the scenes without Matt Lucas and his merry gang.

Worth a watch with beers and popcorn, but such a shame as it was so close to being uber-stylish and uber-cool.


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