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Arts & Culture

Mads Mikkelsen Stars In Two Glacially Titled Films: 'Arctic,' 'Polar'

Mads Mikkelsen stars as a man stranded in the frozen tundra in "Arctic."
Bleecker Street Media
Mads Mikkelsen stars as a man stranded in the frozen tundra in "Arctic."

Charismatic Danish actor makes both films compelling

Companion viewing

"The Green Butchers" (2003)

"Sin City" (2005)

"All is Lost" (2013)

Actor Mads Mikkelsen can be seen in two films with glacially themed titles: “Arctic” — opening this weekend at Landmark — and “Polar” — streaming on Netflix. But the films are worlds apart in terms of style and content.

'Arctic'

The film “Arctic” should make anyone complaining about San Diego’s weather feel like a wimp. The film opens with a man — Mads Mikkelsen — stranded in the tundra. He’s fashioned a makeshift shelter out of his crashed plane and we find him digging in the snow in the opening scene. When the camera pulls back, we see that it is a giant S.O.S. carved into the snow. That tells us all we really need to know.

Director and co-writer Joe Penna gives us no backstory, no info about how the man got there, or how long he’s been there. But those details come to us as the film unfolds and we start to piece together what’s happened. That is one of the strengths of the film, its understated approach that relies more on showing than telling.

As with “All is Lost,” “Arctic” serves up a survival story in which the isolated protagonist doesn’t talk much because there is no need. That is a refreshing choice from films such as “Cast Away” and “Gravity” in which the characters talk incessantly and mindlessly to themselves.

“Arctic” serves up a solid but familiar tale of survival. While I appreciated its low-key style it also disappointed me in failing to capture the minutia of trying to survive in extreme cold. We see frostbitten fingers and toes. but we don’t really feel what that’s like or feel how painfully icy arctic winds can be. It is in the small details that the film could have moved from the familiar to the original and innovative.

But the film has actor Mikkelson as its lead and he is a force of nature and we cannot resist watching him at work.

“Arctic” serves up a grueling tale of survival but Mikkelsen suffers more in the film “Polar,” which also has some cold weather but the real iciness comes from characters who have no human warmth.

Mads Mikkelsen stars as an assassin in the new film "Polar" based on Victor Santos' web comic and graphic novel.
Netflix
Mads Mikkelsen stars as an assassin in the new film "Polar" based on Victor Santos' web comic and graphic novel.

'Polar'

Despite an excessive amount of gore and torture, I’d have to say that “Polar” is the more fun experience.

The film is based on the Dark Horse graphic novel “Polar: Came From the Cold” by Victor Santos. The story revolved around a top assassin named Duncan Vizla (Mikkelsen) who is also known as The Black Kaiser. He is about to retire but then his former employer makes the mistake of trying to kill him and as you might expect, all hell breaks loose.

Panel from Victor Santos' "Polar" comic.
Dark Horse
Panel from Victor Santos' "Polar" comic.

The comic gained notoriety for its violence and lack of dialogue. The film by Jonas Åkerlund tries desperately to outdo Quentin Tarantino for style and violence. The oversaturated colors and eccentric characters come on a little too strong and desperate for attention.

But as with “Arctic,” “Polar” benefits from Mikkelsen in the lead. He is just riveting and when he finally gears up for revenge the film steps into high gear and delivers grueling action and a surprise punch at the end.

Neither “Arctic” nor “Polar” is a great film but Mikkelsen elevates both to make them compellingly watchable entertainment.

Mads Mikkelsen Stars In Two Glacially Titled Films: 'Arctic,' 'Polar'
Actor Mads Mikkelsen can be seen in two films with glacially themed titles: “Arctic” (opening this weekend at Landmark) and “Polar” (streaming on Netflix). But the films are worlds apart in terms of style and content.

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