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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Review: POLAR Is A Deeply Unpleasant Movie

"Did you fuck her? I did. Eugh!"

That was the moment in Polar when I really lost all hope for the project. Up until then, the film's rampant misogyny - and boy, we'll get into that in a minute - was background noise. It was omnipresent, but it seemed... contained, in a weird way. That moment broke me. But we'll get there.

The thing is, I actually kind of like the hook of Polar. Basically, a firm hiring out contract killers overpromised what it could deliver for pensions, and now, the new kid running the company has decided that an easy way to make a few million dollars would be to kill some of the retirees before they can collect. And yeah, there was some stupid stuff around the edges -- the company forces them to retire at 50 (literally, ON their 50th birthday), so they could also avoid paying off the pensions by, like... not forcing them to do that? -- but whatever, making an action movie around corporate greed and wage theft is a solid idea at its core. Duncan Vizla, the Black Kaiser (Mads Mikkelson), one of the most successful hitmen the company ever saw, is approaching 50, and Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas) has decided that now is the time to take him out. To that end, he hires out his A-team of hip young assassins (Fei Ren, Ruby O. Fee, Robert Maillet, Anthony Grant, Josh Cruddas) to take him out before he turns 50 and the company is obligated to begin paying out his massive pension.

But right away, there are some warning signs. The movie opens on a hit that A-team is performing on another aging assassin, and we see how they operate. How do they operate? Deeply, profoundly goofily. Sindy (Fee), insinuates herself into the hitman's life dressed and acting like a 15-year-old boy's Internet search history, when she starts giving the target a 'strategic blowjob' - not the last she'll give in the film - to put him right in the scope of sniper Facundo (Grant). Never explaint is why Facundo seems unable to hit any target who is not receiving a blowjob; I guess he's just a bad sniper? I don't know. Anyway, Facundo shoots him in the chest - with a sniper rifle - and the guy immediately gets back up. Thankfully, Hilde (Ren), Alexie (Cruddas) have also snuck onto the retired hitman's private Chilean villa, where they just barely manage to execute the drunk, retired hitman who - again - has already been shot in the chest with a sniper rifle. Why did they need a sniper and a... blowjob... giver(?)... if they could just walk up to him and shoot him? No clue. Anyway, their private helicopter -- wait, why did they need any of this if they could just flnevermind -- piloted by Karl (Maillet) picks them up, and they fly ho-- wait, they leave Facundo? In a Chilean forest? IS HE GOING TO WALK TO AMERICA?!

Each of these characters is introduced with a stylized title card. Here's Sindy's, just so you know what level this thing is working on.

Meanwhile, Duncan Vizla (Mekkelson) is preparing to retire, but his handler at Damocles, Vivian (Kathryn Winnick) wants him to pull off one last job. Duncan is called in from his cabin in Montana for one last job. Little does he know, it's a tra--oh, it goes off without a hitch, we never even really see the trap. He does castrate a fat man with a nail gun; if you're worried that's the worst graphic abuse of fat people you see, don't be, later in the film, they inflict even more horrific violence on an even fatter man as a 'joke'. Guess they have to send in the A-team. Wait, why didn't they lead with the A-team? This is the most legendarily competent assassin in the organization, and they went with the day players?

Anyway, the next hour of the movie - this is an excruciatingly long film - is about the A-team trying to track down Vizla by torturing their way through a series of U.S. stereotypes, while he hangs out in Montana and befriends a local woman, Camille (Vanessa Hudgens). She talks him into visiting a local kindergarten, where he shows them pictures of dead bodies and how to perform killing blows with exotic weapons. The kindergarten teacher seems iffy on this demonstration, but doesn't fucking stop it for some reason. Camille and Duncan strike up an unusual relationship, but that gets put on hold when the A-team shows up to confront Duncan and kidnap Camille.

And here's where we get to the moment at the top of the review, the moment where I well and truly gave up. Vivian is portrayed as the only goddamn professional in the organization. Second in command at Damocles, she organizes payments, puts together missions, provides personal contact to the assassins - she is, in a very real way, the adult in the room. She's the one warning the Big Bad, like, hey, just let this one go, you can live without his pension. The only thing we see of her personal life still involves her at a strip club, smacking the ass of a couple female dancers grinding on her, because this movie, and I can't stress this enough, cannot help itself, but still, she's a professional. Who, we later learn, fucks the employees on demand. She doesn't seem to like it; the old hitman who talks about her certainly doesn't seem to have enjoyed it. She doesn't seem to be interested in men. But, just like every other woman in this organization, Vivian is expected to be sexually available at all times. This film puts forth a reality in which you can be among the most dangerous women in the world, but you will always be unquestioningly sexually submissive to and available for any man who asks.

Except for Camille. But if you were worried that we got a single woman who wasn't put in her place, don't worry: Mr. Blut does threaten to rape her. Whew, I was worried they would let a woman just fucking exist.

Anyway, I won't spoil how it ends. Secrets are revealed, throats are ripped off, heads are cut off -- it's all quite de rigueur. There's one solid action beat in the film, honestly; the rest is poorly staged gunplay, the kind where a dozen gunmen run directly at our unarmed hero not firing their goddamn guns so he can take them out with a badass doubletap and some quick hand-to-hand combat. The action is plagued by rapid cuts, but then, so is the whole movie.

There are precisely two good scenes. One is an action beat. It doesn't have the choreography or style of something like John Wick, but it does have a bit of pulpy action fun that hearkens back to something like the hilarious snowbound machismo of the opening scene of Schwarzenegger's Red Heat. And honestly, that's all this needed. It's clear that director Jonas Åkerlund doesn't have the confidence or experience to pull off great action choreography, but the script - adapted from a Dark Horse comic - doesn't really offer many interesting scenarios that let him play around with pulp machismo either.

The other is simpler. A doctor gives Mads Mikkelson a prostrate exam, and then, without washing his hands or transitioning to another room pulls out a pear tartine, which he offers to share with Mads, and then sits down at a desk still in the examination room. I felt like I was having a stroke, but also, I laughed as Mads and this weirdo doctor ate a pie together in the world's largest medical examination suite, so, good on you, movie.

So, that's Polar: Two good scenes, a lot of bad action, and a profound and pervasive misogyny and fatphobia that infect damn near every second of screentime. Last night, when I was watching the movie, as I got a couple minutes in to a 'cool', 'stylish' torture scene, all I could think was: This is a deeply unpleasant movie. And honestly, everything I've said here in this review has been to the purpose of explaining that feeling. I did not enjoy my time with Polar. Honestly, I don't know who would. It's Suicide Squad for people who thought that literally the only thing that movie lacked was Harley Quinn sucking some dicks.

Watch John Wick. I don't love Atomic Blonde, but it's a thousand times better than this. Hell, you'd even be better off with RED if you're just looking for a movie about retired assassins fending off their replacements. There is nothing to Polar. Don't bother.

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