Arctic & Polar Double Feature – Film Review

Two wildly different Mads Mikkelsen experiences

Polar has been streaming on Netflix for a bit, but thanks to some negative reviews I put it off, despite being a big fan of Mads Mikkelsen. However, after seeing Arctic in theaters a little over a week ago, I felt obligated to see what Polar was all about. It turns out these two Mads films with very similar names couldn’t be more different.

Mads Mikkelsen Experience #1: Arctic

Arctic eschews the format of most survival films to great effect. Rather than bounce between past and present to elaborate on its protagonist, or watch an ensemble cast get picked off one by one, Arctic focuses on the immediate moment-to-moment of one man.

This immediacy is so fundamental to the storytelling. It hit me like a truck in the first minute or so, when the film reveals that Mikkelsen’s character is already in a survival situation. From there, every tiny victory felt like a triumph, and every problem felt like the end of the line. The stakes are life and death, but the scope couldn’t be smaller or more intimate.

If you’re a fan of single location thrillers like Phone Booth, Buried, and Locke, Arctic is a must-see. By being so focused, it’s clear how Arctic could have gone wrong. Yet, everything from pacing, to Mads Mikkelsen’s performance, and the special effects were handled deftly. It’s a seriously impressive film that accomplishes everything it sets out to do with elegance and minimalism.

Mads Mikkelsen Experience #2: Polar

Everything I just said about deft hands, thoughtful scope, and meaningful stakes? Yeah, none of that exists in Polar. This is a bloated, awful mess that’s impossible to ironically appreciate in a world where action masterpieces like John Wick and Atomic Blonde exist.

From moment one, Polar is trying way too hard. I’m as open to over-the-top sex and violence in films as anyone, but Polar tries to arouse, disgust, excite, and offend with every scene, every shot, and every moment from beginning to end. I found it to be deeply unlikable.

This is a film that mixes blowjobs with bullet wounds no less than three times. The villain is a pale white, bald man, who, OF COURSE, needs to constantly slather himself with hand cream to really drive the point home. An extremely obese man is shot to pieces for no real reason. Johnny Knoxville shows up for about two minutes. This is edgelord filmmaking at its worst.

Hard to Resist a “Polar Opposites” Pun…

But seriously, these two films really only have one thing in common: Mads Mikkelsen. And I’ll admit, he really puts in work for both films. Polar may be a trashfire, but Mikkelsen makes it a bit more watchable. His balletic stunt work is noteworthy, harking back to some of the wild fight scenes in Hannibal. Meanwhile, he gives a far more subtle performance in Arctic, where he manages to be compelling while barely speaking for most of the film.

Bottom line? I didn’t need to watch Polar to remind myself of what a great actor Mads is, and you shouldn’t either. I give Arctic my highest recommendation. Polar?


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