Outside the Wire features solid leads and sparse moments of enthralling action, but it’s saddled with an ineffective gimmick and underserved by an undercooked script.Set in the near-ish future, the film inserts the viewer into an Eastern Bloc civil war where the U.S. is playing ragged referee using robot soldiers (called “Gumps”) to patrol a battle-ravaged No Man’s Land. It’s this premise, and of course the early reveal that Anthony Mackie’s Captain Leo is a classified next-gen cyborg, that makes Outside the Wire a sci-fi film. But the more you watch the movie and marvel at the money Netflix is throwing at a mostly-disposable offering so that it can be a “sci-fi” film, the more you realize this didn’t need to be a sci-fi movie at all. The messaging could have easily been conveyed with present-day humans.Then, if you go a little further down the rabbit hole, you might discover that this movie’s moral quandaries aren’t exactly fresh and that maybe this movie didn’t need to get made at all. And that perhaps Outside the Wire’s sci-fi skin was just a shiny excuse to retell a “war is bad” morality tale that’s been explored countless times already. So despite the performances, some fun bits of Super Soldier action, and a (convoluted) “twist,” it all resonates as hollow. Just like, sadly, a majority of Netflix movies, it feels like a project that’s only three-fourths realized. Though, to be fair, the ads for this film run with “From the studio that brought you Extraction and The Old Guard…” and those are both better movies than this one.As mentioned, the MCU’s Mackie plays a cool and confident android who’s more or less allowed to run his own ops in the midst of the chaos – with his top priority being the capture of warlord Victor Koval (GoT’s Pilou Asbæk). Mackie, as usual, is an immensely charismatic performer, capable of making the clunkiest lines of dialogue, and a seemingly unending string of exposition, feel vital. And, though we don’t know what awaits his Marvel character, Sam Wilson, in the upcoming Falcon and the Winter Soldier series, it’s a bonafide blast to watch Mackie get to fight like a Cap and/or Bucky-level badass.Stepping in as the second in this bizarre “buddy cop” dynamic is Damson Idris’s Lt. Thomas Harp, a drone pilot who’s sent to the front as punishment for going against direct orders and launching a strike that kills two marines (but saves over two dozen others). It’s here, with Harp, that the movie seems unable to decide on where to land regarding his “greater good” decision. Harp is painted as a cold solider who begins to see the pain his drone strikes have caused once immersed in the hell of actual combat (the dichotomy being that Mackie’s android is more emotional and human than Harp) but the film also makes a point, several times, to say that Harp was right to do what he did.
After a while, the convoluted messaging and overdose of esoteric robotics protocol piles up into a movie that you can’t even fully enjoy on a pure action level. Leo and Harp go off-book, “outside the wire,” and into the war zone to stop Koval from getting his hands on nukes and it’s all profoundly less interesting than it should be. Things are briefly able to lift off whenever Mackie’s able to rampage as a one-man army, but mostly director Mikael Håfström (Escape Plan, The Rite) has crafted a very expensive, nice-looking dud that can walk arm-in-arm with other bloated and bland Netflix offerings.