Most people simply know actor Anthony Mackie as the Falcon from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Either that, or through his performance as Danny Parker in that one episode of “Black Mirror”. Then, we heard that Mackie would be taking the lead in a sci-fi war film in which he starred as android super-soldier. Now that sounded like a rip-roaring good time. We came in expecting loud, dumb fun with plenty of frenetic shoot outs and your typical cyborg set-pieces. What we got instead was something unexpected, and we mean this in the best way possible. “Outside the Wire” has a lot to say about the state of modern warfare and does it without ever skimming on the action.
The year is 2036, Russia is waging a proxy war against the Ukraine using a militia group, the Krazny. Local resistance is fighting to keep the Russians out their country and to maintain sovereignty. American forces have arrived on a peacekeeping mission to ensure minimal losses and maintain order, or so it seems. Both forces are utilising autonomous combat robots known as Gumps, which further escalates the conflict. The entire face of the war is about to change though when disgraced drone pilot Thomas Harp is paired up with an advanced android called Leo. The two of them will embark on a mission to stop a warlord named Victor Koval from acquiring nuclear launch codes. There’s more than meets the eye to Leo, though.
Look, we’ll be honest with you. A lot of the main beats of the film is lifted from Antoine Fuqua’s “Training Day”. The by-the-book rookie on his first day with the grizzled, morally ambiguous veteran? Ring a bell? While the structure is familiar, there’s still plenty of novelty to go around. So many times, films rely on heavy exposition dumps to flesh out their world. Hell, even “The Matrix” isn’t immune to this. “Outside the Wire” abandons this tiresome trope for a refreshing show-rather-than-tell approach.
Everything from the film’s geopolitical landscape to its characters’ pathos to its thematic ethos is all done without ever slowing the action down. Which is saying something when you consider the film’s brisk pace. There is a point of contention in the film that will no doubt divide some viewers. A lot of the political rhetoric in “Outside the Wire” can at times be extremely heavy-handed. Especially when it examines the cost of human life in the face of war. In spite of the fact that the Russians are painted as the enemy here, a lot of the film’s criticisms have the US War Machine placed squarely in its cross-hairs. Its main mouthpiece is found in Anthony Mackie’s android, Leo.
Some might find it a tad preachy but we didn’t mind it at all. The plot is never hampered by its ideological underpinnings and so its not much of an issue. However, there is one glaring question we wished the film addressed: How the hell does Leo work? So…he’s an android that is somehow able to be highly emotional and empathetic? Never once is his programming explained or how his decision making algorithm works. If the film was set in some outlandish dystopian future ala “Blade Runner”, then fine sure. In light of the film’s gritty, realistic take on armed conflict, though, Leo sticks out like a sore thumb. Beyond that, the rest of the film sticks the landing.
All that smartsy-fartsy ideology aside, how does the film fare in terms of its action scenes? The answer: pretty damn good! Large scale cinematic battles tend to devolve into this incomprehensible cacophony of noise, shaky cam and quick cuts. Lots of yelling, military jargon and blurred shots. Not this time, though. There’s a real sense of scale when it comes to the shoot-outs. When it does cut away to different perspectives outside of Harp and Leo, it always serves a purpose.
Either to highlight the chaos and terror of being caught in the crossfire or to zoom in on specific tactics. The addition of Gumps on the battlefield adds a strategic element to gunplay. The exception is of course Mackie’s Leo. He’s there to run-and-gun and look badass while doing it all. Near the end, the final fight is a little less dramatic than expected. It’s sombre and even flirts with the idea of allowing nuclear holocaust to be wrought upon the world. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t dare to venture into that territory. A little too bleak, we suppose.
Make no mistake, actor Anthony Mackie alongside Damson Idris’s performance as Harp carries the film. Initially, Harp is cold and callous when it comes to the cost of war. Labeling victims of his drone strikes simply as “collateral damage”. As the film progresses, we see Harp grow in courage and compassion as he struggles to understand the truth at the heart of the conflict. The Alonzo Harris, so to speak, to his Jake Hoyt is the android soldier, Leo. A charming and passionate warrior who teaches Harp a thing or two about compassion and humanity. He too goes through a personal journey of his own. One we won’t spoil here.
On screen, the two of them have great chemistry as we watch their relationship develop throughout the film. It all culminates in an explosive confrontation that leaves the audience with much food for thought. We look forward to seeing Mackie bloom outside of the comic-book film genre as he continues to headline in more films.
More than mere fun for the masses, “Outside the Wire” delivers a scathing critique against American Imperialism. Carried by Mackie’s fiery performance and slick high-tech action, this is one quarantine blockbuster you do not want to miss! We sincerely hope we get to see more of the world of “Outside the Wire”. There’s a whole lot of potential here for a possible franchise.
You can now catch “Outside the Wire” on Netflix today!
So what did you think of the film? Did you find it as engaging as we did? Or was it far too evangelical and familiar in its presentation? Be sure to let us know in the comments down below!