In multiple ways, Netflix has carved out niche audience appeal, one of which is the R-rated action genre which is increasingly becoming a rarity. But Netflix cranks out an R-rated action movie every few months like The Old Guard, Extraction, Project Power, and their latest one is the sci-fi military action flick Outside the Wire. That is a terrible generic title that doesn’t describe a movie that consists of robot gunfire action. The lead character also spends a lot of time pontificating about their mission and why he’s special which gets a little repetitive, but the character lets star Anthony Mackie be a little less Falcon and a little more Winter Solider. And while Wire is set in the near future of 2036, the sci-fi concepts seem a wee bit too advanced for only 15 years. Still there is a satisfying cacophony of chaos and by the end it gets a little sci-fi moralizing ala The Day the Earth Stood Still. Also, robots blowing stuff up!
In the future, Eastern Europe has become a civil war zone and one U.S. drone pilot, Harp (Damson Idris), disobeys orders to save a bunch of marines while killing two. He is kicked out of his drone pilot seat and sent to the front lines of the war and assigned to a quirky military specialist, Leo (Mackie). While Leo says his job is to bring medical supplies, surprisingly, his actual job is acquiring enemy military technology. And even more surprisingly, Leo is not human at all but an advanced artificial life form. With both the U.S. and Russian insurgents supplementing their combat troops with mobile robotic soldiers nicknamed “Gump”, it means going outside of the base (or “the wire”, there’s that generic title) can be dangerous. But Leo and Harp’s quest to find military leader, Victor Koval (Pilou Asbaek), could impact the entire world.
Now the whole “small military operation suddenly has dramatic, global apocalyptic stakes” final turn isn’t exactly original and sort of a cheap way to generate tension. The idea of robotic drone soldiers in the near future is an interesting one, and the look of the Gump’s are nicely weird, especially when the soldiers line up to get ID scanned and their sergeant is hollering at them to look into the robot’s eye. While the Gump’s seem somewhat plausible in 15 years as an advancement of automation, Leo certainly does not. It probably would have been better if the film had simply said “the future” as opposed to stamping a 2036 date on it.
Mackie’s Leo doesn’t come across as robotic or unnatural; he’s basically Mackie as the Falcon but with a bit more swearing. His partner even asks if Leo was programed to swear so much and Leo just swears back at him. He seems like a standard jarhead military solider although every once in a while he can shift his skin to reveal the biomechanical components underneath. Mackie is good at snapping loudly so it’s still entertaining. But as much as Leo talks about his specs, it’s never made quite clear how this marvel of technology exists and is so closely able to emulate humanity.
The only part of Leo that seems truly like a nefarious Artificial Intelligence is his ultimate motivation for bringing along Harp. As a synthetic Leo can’t disobey orders or he’ll be shut down so Leo needs Harp to disobey and point them in the right direction. And there are a few more twists that occur in the later half about how a machine would address the situation of global war. Disappointingly, there’s never a moment when Leo goes full Terminator by pushing the extremes between man and machine.
Idris as Harp is basically the guy who asks all the questions and generally looks incompetent while Leo is kicking ass all over the place. Harp starts the movie as a drone pilot uncaring of the collateral damage he’s causing and later he gets a up close and personal look at drone destruction at ground zero which sort of counts as a character arc. The final confrontation between Harp and Leo is a bit underwhelming in the action department but both Idris and Mackie elevate the scene. They spend most of the movie chasing after Victor Koval and Asbaek sneers menacingly in his one scene basically like when he played Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones. Koval turns out to be a limp, misdirect villain which is a shame. Emily Beecham plays a revolutionary who is funnelling information to Leo and she gets some scenes where she sternly says war bad, however she gets more unexpected development near the end.
Anytime robots are shooting at something is always enjoyable and the close combat scenes between the humans are satisfyingly crunchy. A shoot out on a barren street features lots of explosions and there’s a hostage situation that features Harp trying to get civilians to safety that goes wrong. Outside the Wire doesn’t quite find the right sci-fi/action philosophy mix of classic sci-fi action films like Aliens or Terminator, and the central cyborg isn’t very distinct, but it does its job of shooting loudly good enough.
Outside The Wire
Director: Mikael Håfström
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris and Enzo Cilenti