Outside the Wire, 2021.
Directed by Mikael Håfström.
Starring Anthony Mackie, Pilou Asbæk, Emily Beecham, Michael Kelly, Damson Idris, Kristina Tonteri-Young, Bobby Lockwood, Enzo Cilenti, Velibor Topic, and Henry Garrett.
In the near future, a drone pilot sent into a war zone finds himself paired with a top-secret android officer on a mission to stop a nuclear attack.
There’s an intriguing dynamic at the start of Outside the Wire, which teams up a drone pilot and an android with reverse personalities from what’s typical to be expected. The machine Lee (played with fierce intensity and plenty of F-bombs from Anthony Mackie) is far from emotionally robotic; if anything, he thrives off of heated emotion. Meanwhile, disgraced drone pilot Harp (Damson Idris) has perhaps gotten too comfortable making rational decisions that while none the less efficient, take human lives, even if they are American. Essentially, the human must take notes from the robot this time around.
Harp is not assigned to Lee’s unit but has been chosen for a mission because of his brash decision-making and ability to disobey his chain of command for what he believes to be the greater good. For director Mikael Håfström (1408) working alongside writers Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe, that premise should offer more than enough to explore to offer something refreshing in the genre of future wars fought with man-made cybernetic technology, but they get too caught up in the details of a Krasny criminal warlord named Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk) taking advantage of a Russian-Ukrainian conflict to unearth unused nukes from the Cold War, intending to launch attacks of his own.
Narratively, it’s about as engaging and thought-provoking as a Call of Duty campaign (which is not a good thing when your movie continuously tries hard to shake up character motives to the point it becomes generic and annoying), with some other random world-building elements thrown in such as heavy machinery robots known as GUMPS (the basically look like mechs with security cameras for heads) and environments seemingly reclaimed by nature following years of war. The visual touches work, as Outside the Wire is more often than not pretty to look at if familiar, but the story itself is an onslaught of exposition, pointless information, bland villains, and tropes getting in the way of that aforementioned interesting premise of a coldhearted human being learning how to take emotional cues from an android.
One gets the impression that the screenwriters gave up trying to say something interesting what the concept, choosing to go for a series of action sequences allowing Anthony Mackie to wreck shop. It could be said that Outside the Wire makes the mistake of using constant cutaways during the violence, but the fast-paced nature of Lee’s bone-breaking attacks coupled with the clarity of the photography actually renders the brutality watchable and highly enjoyable. A highlight includes Lee twisting a man’s body as if it were a pretzel while using the gun in his enemy’s hand to fire away at numerous other henchmen, of course with lethal accuracy. There are also one or two chase sequences across rooftops that are also effective (Lee’s physical skills are not just limited to combat, as he can also parkour across rooftops and wooden beams).
The plummet here comes when the true intentions of a certain character are revealed; if you want to bury your interesting ideas in favor of action that’s one thing and somewhat forgivable, but when you betray that good idea to become like every other story centered on machines fighting wars the rest becomes stale and a chore to watch. These character decisions are somewhat wrestled with, but it’s all half-baked and comes across hollow, trying to say something about America’s place in war in as little as two sentences.
It’s also frustrating that the special effects are either poor or nonexistent. Thematically, it makes sense to hide as much of Lee’s cybernetic features as possible if he is the more human one of the team, but whenever we do see through the illusion of human flesh revealing robotic parts, it feels like a team doing the bare minimum, as if all the money went to the combat scenes. Maybe the point is to forget that Lee is a cyborg sometimes, but it’s easy to do so going at odds with the point of having a cyborg character in the first place. Simultaneously, the effects are nothing to write home about anyway, so I suppose it’s a lose-lose situation. Still, Lee taking damage could have been presented better, and it would be nice if he didn’t stand around and only become wounded when it’s convenient for the plot.
The point here is to teach Harp a lesson about humanity and help him regain some especially for the soldiers he watches over from an airbase, but the journey there filled with mysterious motives and lame villains ensuring it doesn’t have much of an impact when the final message on American military ethics arrives. Outside the Wire is just outside the realm of quality, stuck as a futuristic war story that fails its central characters and its intended concept for hit and miss action set pieces that never let up.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com