Like many of you, I greatly enjoy John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2. Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here, and assume that those of you who agree with me - and for that matter, those of you who do not - probably do not spend much of your time thinking, "I would really like to watch a version of John Wick that was a great deal shittier". But in case I am wrong, you now have the luxury of watching Polar, courtesy of Netflix, and sating that curiosity. It is emphatically not worth it.

The film is adapted from a 2013 graphic novel by Victor Santos, with a screenplay by Jayson Rothwell and direction by Jonas Åkerlund. The latter has almost exclusively worked in music videos up this point, and Polar feels exactly like the product of somebody who's incapable of thinking in large narrative units than the length of a pop song. It's a sped-up, rattled mess about Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen, whose decline to this point from his art film origins is all but impossible to trace), one of the top assassins at Damocles, a firm that offers considerably attractive benefit packages to its contract killers. This is just weird enough to be sort of fascinating, especially since it manages to be the driving force of the entire plot: as it turns out, Damocles has terribly over-extended itself, and can no longer afford to pay out the pensions it has promised to its killers. Vizla has been particularly assiduous about managing his retirement package, which makes him an especially large headache for Blut (Matt Lucas), the owner of Damocles. And so does Vizla become the latest Damocles contractor to be targeted by a task force of colorfully nihilistic assassins.

I mean, it's different. In a weirdly enjoyable way, Polar lays bare the fundamental arbitrariness of action movie plotting: all the work of establishing a dead family, or a turncoat partner, or a lost love, or whatever, is kind of besides the point if you can get to the same point with something as idiotic as a dispute over pensions. Or maybe it's the opposite: maybe Polar demonstrates the vital need of at least a fig leaf of character-based narrative, because the point it gets to is unbelievably boring. Either way, the point remains: nothing that happens is interesting, and none of the characters involved are remotely worth spending time with. Mikkelsen is too good of an actor (and one can vaguely imagine that he actually cared about some aspect of this project or another) to simply sleepwalk his way through this, though perhaps it would have been less painful if he did; there'd be less of a sharp sense of vicarious embarrassment.

And embarrassing it is right from the very start, in which the opening titles are written in a needlessly busy mixture of fonts and shifting colors; and then it doubles down in the opening scene, which finds Johnny Knoxville playing an assassin who gets shot in the chest right in the middle of receiving oral sex from one of the assassin task force killer, Sindy (Ruby O. Fee). Setting aside as not worth the effort the whole ultra-edgy "sex killer" thing (which feels like a drunken hangover from the comics of the 1990s, not the 2010s), the sequence is still a tremendously awful bit of filmmaking and storytelling that serves as a capsule version of everything that will prove to be extremely objectionable about Polar. For one thing, as each member of the cast is introduced, the screen freezes and their name is flashed up in the same mixture of fonts (yet another affectation that feels profoundly archaic in the 21st Century), and it's distracting, gumming up the momentum of the film right at the start. And boy, is the film trying hard to build momentum through slice-and-dice editing that feels like the very worst of Michael Bay distilled by people without even his questionable talent. There is simply no sense of anything: not only is it completely impossible to do more than guess at the relationship between Knoxville's character and the shadowy assassin squad watching him, it's barely possible to track his movement across a patio. It's not sloppy - it's hectic, living in mortal fear of any but the shortest of shots, and so it keeps cutting with no sense of rhythm or spatial connection.

That's not going to go away, and the moment that the film moves into its second scene, we add the macro-level version of the same problem: stuff just happens, and there's rarely a sense of time passing, or connections of any sort of causality. When it's all over, sure, you can figure out what happened throughout, but in the moment, most of the scene transitions are as graceful as a rhino on an escalator. There is no sense of building stakes, and no amount of Mikkelsen looking surly can do that: the main villain, Blut, seems uniquely disconnected from everything else that happens.

Somewhere along the way, a young innocent, Camille (Vanessa Hudgens) enters the picture, and this ostensibly gives Vizla more to fight for, but in practice, it just adds clutter, particularly since the film does such a piss-poor job of giving her any character details until the penultimate scene (and a sequel hook that made me spitting mad as I was watching. The only actual human personality that ever comes into play is in the form of Vivian (Kathyn Winnick), a figure of indeterminate role within Damocles who, quite without explanation, wears a new wig in every single scene she appears. It's pointless and dumb, but at least it's peculiar enough to be striking. There is no other aspect of Polar that's remotely interesting: the plot is just a pretext for fight scenes that come along far too infrequently, and are cut to ribbons when we see them anyway. Take that out, and all that's left is Mikkelsen looking chic and tormented in rooms with exaggerated color lighting: it is, I guess, stylish, but it's thirdhand, reconstituted style and it lacks the passion of a John Wick, so everything just ends up looking garish, overblown, and therefore ugly. And when a film predicated on its slick surfaces to the degree that Polar is looks ugly, it really and truly has lost everything.