Set in the year 2036, Netflix feature Outside the Wire depicts Eastern Europe in the grips of a civil war, with the United States military stationed as peacekeepers in what is described as a lawless new frontier. The region is controlled by a ruthless war monger named Victor Koval, who the Pentagon is chasing with the deployment of Gumps – high tech robotic soldiers.
Damson Idris (Snowfall) plays Lt Thomas Harp, a cocky drone pilot whose duty means that he hasn’t experienced a single day of physical, in-person combat. When he disobeys a direct command out of the belief that he is right about an impending threat, he is brought before a disciplinary panel. Instead of being charged with insubordination, he is deployed to a volatile demilitarised zone where he is to serve beneath Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), who is actually a highly classified android war machine. They’re deployed on a dangerous mission to deliver a vaccine and prevent Koval from taking control of Russia’s last remaining nuclear missile.
Outside the Wire is a beautiful-looking combat film and it bares the hallmarks of a Neil Blomkamp movie. Its stark and gritty design reminds of other titles like Children of Men and Edge of Tomorrow, and if you can imagine combining those stories then you’ll have an idea of what to expect from the production design. Unfortunately, that is where the appeal ends, because for all that it achieves viscerally, it fails to deliver elsewhere.
One of the dominant themes woven throughout the film is the nature of modern warfare and the lack of humanity when decisions are made from the safety of home-soil. And while that is, indeed, a powerful issue, director Mikael Håfström (Escape Plan, The Rite) fails to attach the moral dilemma and consequence of such actions. Frustrating also is the fact that there is a real sense of the filmmakers wanting to discuss something meaningful, yet the opportunities are never seized. The result is a loud military action movie with strong sci-fi motifs that careens ahead at a ferocious pace, without stopping to contemplate the weight of its message.
Outside the Wire also makes the unfortunate mistake – which so many films before it have suffered for – of over-predicting an imminent future. 2036 is a completely baffling year to depict such advanced technologies and sciences. To be clear, that is fifteen years from now – a point most of us will still be around to witness its gaffe and expiration date. I mean, if the likes of Kubrick couldn’t line up predictions with 2001: A Space Odyssey, then heck… add a century or two to your story, mate!
Overlooking the film’s obvious shortcomings, Mackie and Idris are both very good. They interact and react to their environment effectively. Idris plays the rookie impressively and puts in his best to provide his character with a full narrative arc. The inability to explore the story’s deeper themes is not his doing and he should be commended for getting as much out of Lt Harp as he does.
Mackie steps into his commanding role with confidence, that poise no doubt helped by his long-running part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is comfortable amongst the action and delivers a headstrong performance. Whether or not he is convincing as an android, on the other hand, is up for debate. Although, I would suggest that any lack of believability on that end lies squarely with the screenwriters, Rowan Athale (Wasteland) and Rob Yescombe (a notable video game writer), who lazily chalk up his humanisms to “programming”.
Casual action fans may get more from Outside the Wire than some astute genre fans, and there is no questioning the beauty of the world Mikael Håfström has created. It is gritty and chaotic, and presents an interesting – albeit completely surface level – prospect of pending global affairs. Had it included a modicum of humanity and an actual emotional punch, it might have been a very respectable film indeed. Sadly, that is not the case.
‘Outside the Wire’ is now streaming on Netflix – HERE.