Original Netflix movies had a shaky start to 2018; “Bright” was critically panned (I know it’s a late 2017 movie, but I saw it early 2018), “The Cloverfield Paradox” was disappointing, and “Mute”—which I actually liked—gave Netflix Original movies a bad reputation. Films like “Calibre”, “Cargo”, “TAU”, “Extinction”, and “How it ends”, not only kept that reputation going, they made any movie under the ‘Original’ brand a red herring for movie-goers. Mercifully, the Coen-brothers led “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” was a joy, Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” was one of the best movies of last year, and a few other movies such as “How it ends”, “Outlaw King”, and “Psychokinesis” look genuinely good, which seemed to mark a change in Netflix’s strategy on which movies to fund or purchase exclusive rights to. So, with that in mind, has 2019 started off better for Netflix Original movies? Simply taking a look at “Polar”, one could be tempted to say “yes”, because it’s a colorful adaptation of a cult classic graphic novel, starring Mads Mikkelsen and tons of gore, over-the-top violence, and playful editing and stylistic choices. What’s not to like?!
Well, there are a few things not to like about “Polar” but let’s discuss what there is to like about it first; the aforementioned description of the movie is absolutely true: “Polar” is a Mads Mikkelsen-led, playful, adaptation of a graphic novel with tons of gore, over-the-top action that is bursting with style. Mads Mikkelsen is, without a doubt, too good for this movie; his performance is above and beyond any other element in this movie. He commits to the sensibilities of this movie and plays with them, but still delivers a great, acting performance when required; everyone else ranges from forgettable to fine, but he shows once more why he is so highly regarded by fans and critics alike. So, Mads Mikkelsen is great, but what else do I like about the movie? I like its sense of style; it’s a lot of vibrant colors, cool-looking shots, absurd characters, and weird font choices popping into the scene, and I’m a sucker for those things. I like the use of gore and over-the-top action scenes; it’s not John Wick or Oldboy, but it doesn’t need to be. When “Polar” decides to be an over-the-top action movie with obscene amounts of gore and “cool action-guy” scenes, it turns into a watchable and decent action movie.
The problem here is the word “When”, because this movie takes around three quarters of its runtime to get to the point where “cool action-guy” stuff start to happen, and up until that point, there’s nothing to keep your interest or build your investment towards the characters. There’s a really basic story with a very predictable twist in the end, which does explain a few weird and seemingly unimportant sub-plots, but in an awkward way that is very anti-climactic; beyond that it’s every cliché in the book: Stereotypical, British, fat bad guy? Check; Stereotypical depictions of “insane” antagonists? Check. Even the style of the movie began to get on my nerves by the time the movie decided to start killing people in extreme over-the-top fashion–which coming from a Nicolas Winding Refn fan should say a lot. It’s not just the stereotypical depictions of clichés that make this movie boring; it’s the fact that they are the entire point of the movie for most of its duration. Yes, it has some gory action scenes, but it was always a side dish to the main course of a meandering plot and boring set-up; “John Wick” is a success because it is about a bad-ass assassin living in a high fantasy assassination setting, kicking ass in impressive and adrenaline-filled action scenes, while “Polar” is about a bad-ass assassin successfully retiring to a remote place for most of the movie, until some annoying characters finally catch up to him at the end of the second act.
So, let’s circle back to the original question: Has 2019 got off to a better start for Netflix Original movies? Well, in many ways, it is the exact same start: Both “Bright” and “Polar” have leading actors that are above and beyond the movies they are in; they have a style that works, but ultimately degrades in quality and becomes annoying until the end; they are both bad movies and ultimately disappointing; they both had an interesting concept to work with and ultimately failed to deliver it. However, “Bright” was a joyless experience that I found nothing to like; two hours of my life wasted from a service that provided endless hours of enjoyment and entertainment. “Polar”, on the other hand, is not devoid of joy; it does have some moments of good entertainment to provide (and Mads Mikkelsen). It’s not a good movie by any means, but it is a movie where I saw the vision for it, the effort behind it, the commitment towards it, the love for its source material, and a few good moments showed me what could have been; it did not left me feeling like I had wasted 2 hours, but it left me disappointed that those two hours could have been a lot better, which is a definite upgrade from “Bright”. So, is it a good start? No, but it’s definitely better than last years.