Entertainment

Mads Mikkelsen's 'Polar' Is Netflix's Goriest Original Movie Ever

polar netflix
Mads Mikkelsen as the Black Kaiser. | Netflix
Mads Mikkelsen as the Black Kaiser. | Netflix

More than a few times during Netflix’s new insanely violent hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold action movie Polar, I wondered to myself, Am I a bad person for having so much dumb fun right now??

Polar is not, by any metric, a very good movie, but Netflix is not especially interested in making good movies. But it is a very fun, very ridiculous, and very violent movie that stars Mads Mikkelsen as a hitman nicknamed the Black Kaiser. Polar opens with Johnny Knoxville getting taken out by a crew of evil Charlie's Angels wannabes in a spray of bullets and blood while Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" booms in the background.

Characters have names like Sindy, Junkie Jane, Mr. Blut. Mikkelsen kills an entire army of henchmen with a bunch of machine guns hooked to a pair of laser gloves. Polar doesn't fancy itself particularly highbrow entertainment; instead, it's a comically bloody hitman movie where every action set piece is more over-the-top than the last.

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A murderers' row of murderers. | Netflix

Mads Mikkelsen plays notorious hitman Duncan Vizla, AKA the Black Kaiser, who is only two weeks away from his 50th birthday and subsequent compulsory retirement (his agency isn't keen on employing killers past their prime). He's set to receive a handsome retirement package from the agency and is ready to settle down to a life of simplicity in his small mountain village, where the toughest decision he has to make is which mac and cheese to buy at the general store. He gets a dog. It... doesn't work out. He gets some fish. Those work better. He befriends his across-the-lake neighbor, a timid young girl named Camille (played by Vanessa Hudgens), who startles at loud, sudden noises but seems to prefer the isolation of their small town. Everything seems to be going fine, until Duncan learns that a group of goons have been hunting down soon-to-retire hitmen from his agency -- and he's next.

The film is based on Victor Santos' graphic novel series and webcomic he began in 2012, which was marked by a stylized black, white, and orange color scheme and complete lack of dialogue, as well as plenty of gory fight sequences. In contrast, the movie is stylized in a different way, with vibrant colors taking the place of the comic's muted palette and characters introduced with punchy split-screen collages and their names plastered across the screen in gothic tattoo parlor font. The movie knows it's trash, which is what makes it so much darn fun.

Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund -- who also directed the Norwegian black metal horror movie Lords of Chaos (which debuted at Sundance in 2018 and will finally arrive in theaters and On Demand in February) -- gives Polar a distinct, gross flair, and he delights in crackling gunfire and seeing how many bullets one body can take before it stops looking like a body altogether. Polar might be the most violent movie -- or the movie that delights the most in its own violence -- that Netflix has in its originals catalog. It's more Robert Rodriguez than Bourne: Most of the characters onscreen die in horrible, sometimes hilarious, ways. There's an extended torture montage during which the execution of Scottish hero William Wallace is described in graphic detail.

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This is what best friends look like. | Netflix

There's also a cartoonish aesthetic when it comes to how the characters come across onscreen. Duncan spends the movie looking relatively normal (as normal as canonically intimidating Mads Mikkelsen can look) until he gets a freakin' eyepatch. Every time his handler at the hitman agency, Vivian (Vikings' Katheryn Winnick), appears, she's wearing any one of about 20 heavily styled wigs with an armory of matching designer outfits. The team of killers on Duncan's scent are dressed in anything from bowling T-shirts to leather catsuits. The villainous Mr. Blut is played with a delightfully disgusting gusto by Doctor Who's Matt Lucas, donning monochrome three-piece suits and slathering his appendages with hand cream.

There are plenty of aspects to Polar that would probably make it a highly distasteful film if it didn't find so much glee in being bad. It's not a must-see, but it's definitely a must-see-to-believe: After a comically long sex scene, Mikkelsen kills a man while running around stark naked in the snow; he teaches a bunch of schoolchildren about the best way to kill someone with a knife; in a nearly 10-minute-long hallway fight sequence he uses a fire extinguisher to kill a bunch of security guards. Polar isn't for everyone, but you can't say it pulls any punches.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.