Outside the Wire (2021) Review
AN INTERESTING PREMISE THAT
(GENERICALLY AND DREARILY) FIZZLES OUT
With the rise of the streaming services, Netflix, the major contender in this arena, has certainly “stepped up their game” in trying to amass viewers; exploring the ideas of original content in both in TV series, limited mini-series, and feature films. In the film category, Netflix has seeing produce or bought a wide range of films to included underneath its brand name. Some have been quite the success, including such popular hits like Extraction, Triple Frontier, Klaus, and Bird Box, while others have had a sort of middling reception amongst its viewers with films like The Cloverfield Paradox, Father of the Year, Murder Mystery, and Rim of the World. In between those two extremes, Netflix’s original movies have had some middling projects, which are faced with mixed thoughts from viewers, such as The Old Guard, 6 Underground, Bright, and Powers. It’s definitely a “hit or miss” with Netflix as the streaming service giant seems to be buying up a lot of properties that it can get its hands on in trying to the more “popular” streaming service provider. Now, Netflix and director Mikael Håfström present one of the latest film’s for Netflix with the release of Outside the Wire. Does the film’s gritty action and moral ideals of war rise to occasion or is it a bland sci-fi experience that’s not worth your time
The year is 2036 and the theater landscape of war has become more mechanized with the US military using A.I. robots to bolster their forces. In Eastern Europe, civil war has decimated the region, with the Krazny nation (pro-Russian insurgents) ruled by terrorist Victor Koval (Pilou Asbaek), who seeks ultimate power for the land. In America, Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) has been removed from duty as a drone pilot after defying a direct order in active mission, pulled away from his comfy life in Nevada and sent to a demilitarized zone on the Krazny border. Being punished for his actions and forced to experience real combat on thSce ground in an unstable area he bombed from afar, Harp is quickly assigned in the care of one Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), an enhanced synthetic human cyborg tasked with delivering crucial vaccines to villages in need. Leo doesn’t have the patience for Harp’s personality, but the men are forced into the heat of battle; meandering their way through a war-torn landscape, dealing with Koval’s followers and his Russian robotic soldiers along the way. During the mission, Harp and Leo turn their focus to unmanned nuclear silos in Ukraine, with Koval eager to acquire the launch codes for the missiles, planning to wipe out his enemy with such destructive weapons at his disposal. Stepping up to prevent global nuclear fallout, Leo and Harp hunt for Koval, with Harp learning more about his commanding cyborg commander and beginning to understand that not everything is crystal clear on the battlefield.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
In this day and age, streaming services are all the rage with cable boxes (and their services) are going extinct. It’s true. I’ve seeing more people ditch cable services from the big companies (i.e., Cox, Spectrum, Comcast, Time Warner, DirectTV, etc.) and going to use more of streaming devices / sticks (i.e., Firestick, Chromecast, Roku, etc.). This, of course, makes the streaming services more accessible, especially with Netflix, which was one of the first streaming providers. Naturally, the overall success of Netflix has been proven to work with the company starting to produce their own content, which began with TV series and now into feature length productions. As I mentioned above, I personally think Netflix’s original movies are a bit of “hit or miss”, with some really hitting their mark and others seemingly like off-beat / off-kilter endeavors that have good ideas but are not properly executed. There’s definitely a long list of the features that they have either produced or bought from studios and I think that’s what the company goes for; trying to do a “trial and error” with some of these projects. Hey…if they got the money.
This brings me back to talking about Outside the Wire, a 2021 sci-fi Netflix original movie. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie as I only heard about the film a few days before its release. I think it was one website that I visited did an early review for it and I was bit intrigued to see it. I decided to check out the film’s movie trailer online (via YouTube) and it definitely looked interesting. I did like the sci-fi elements in the movie, especially with the concept idea of military utilizing robotic soldiers. So, after a couple of weeks after its release (I had a couple of other films to see before this one) I decided to check out Outside the Wire. And what did I think of it? Well, it was a bit disappointing. Despite having an interesting premise and some nifty visuals, Outside the Wire lacks the dramatic punch it wants to be produced and gets muddled within its predictable plot beats. The movie starts off strong, but ultimately fizzles out.
Outside the Wire is directed by Mikael Håfström, whose previous directorial works includes such films like 1408, The Rite, and Evil. Given his background of directing and that he sort of “stepped away” from the director’s chair for quite a lengthy gap between the end of 2000s to the mid-2010s, Håfström makes the most of this movie and certainly does so; making Outside the Wire an through and through action film that seems to be teeming with explosive sequences. For the most part, this concept delivers (though it gets a bit muddle along the way), with Håfström staging action scenes throughout the movie and producing some decent sequences that deliver on the adrenaline. Another additional concept that the movie delivers on is in its morals and morality towards war. As to be expected, Outside the Wire confronts issues of morality, especially in how war itself isn’t as clear cut (i.e., black and white) with a lot of “gray area” happening. It’s a particular side that many of us don’t see and I think the film does a good job in showing how the military (and America) think of certain things are done and are a stark difference to what actually happens. Does the end justify the means if a bus full of soldiers gets detonated by a bomb instead of a public park full of women and children? Food for thought and question for the philosophers out there.
In terms of presentation, Outside the Wire is good and (much like a lot of Netflix original productions) meets the industry standards for this particular type of film endeavor. What I mean is that the film kind of feels like what Netflix would “put out” for a feature film of this caliber (production budget wise). That’s not to saying what’s presented works and I think that the film utilized its budget given to them; creating large open settings and locations that depict the war-torn land of Eastern Europe as well as some militarized encampments. Thus, the “behind the scenes” team for the film should be commended for their work. The film’s visual effects team should also be commended for the wizardry on this project, especially in some of the sequences involving the military’s robotic A.I. soldiers as well as some of Leo’s cybertronic body. Granted, these visual effects scenes are not as dynamic or to be “wowed” over like a Hollywood blockbuster, but it certainly caught my interest in making the film’s visual moments “pop” a little bit more. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Lorne Balfe, delivers a solid musical composition to the feature. It’s not his best work, but it definitely gets the job done.
Unfortunately, Outside the Wire isn’t exactly what its all cracked up to be, with a lot of points of criticisms throughout the film; holding the movie back from reaching a cinematic greatness. Perhaps my biggest pet peeve about the film is how the movie doesn’t really utilize the whole sci-fi aspect of the movie’s narrative. Yes, as I mentioned above, all the sci-fi elements and visual effects are good and does give an interesting take on the whole military using robotic tech in the not-too-distant future venue. However, it’s all a bit superfluous and the movie would be exactly the same if one would strip away all the sci-fi nuances. Of course, a few plot points would have to be changed, but you know what I mean… the film never fully utilized what it has; offering up a very unnecessary science fiction avenues in Outside the Wire that never fully encompasses the “otherworldly” future aspect that the film’s story desperately wants to be discus or display.
In addition, my other big pet peeve with the movie is that it almost an unmistakable illusion / carbon copy to 2001’s Training Day. Suffice to say that I won’t spoil that particular film (though it is a great movie to watch….in case you haven’t seeing it), but the similarities between the two films are quite profound …. right down to Outside the Wire’s big twist at the beginning of the third act. This, of course, makes the movie feels a bit of rip off or watered-down version of Training Day….just with a bit more of sci-fi angle, which (again) isn’t fully utilized to its fullest. Naturally, this makes the film’s story feels quite formulaic and predictable, with many of the film’s narrative twists and curveballs feels rather moot and could be seeing coming before the happen. This, of course, stems from the feature’s script handling, which was penned by Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale; offering up a rather recycled and generic storyline that doesn’t quite pan and is riddled with tropes in both characters and story components. Speaking of which, the film’s script keeps on drilling you (its viewers) on the current situation and plot, which certainly does become annoying after a while. One would think with this simplistic plot of saving the world from an evil with a new recruit and seasoned veteran on point with each other, but Outside the Wire gets more bogged down in its own superfluous plot points; getting the narrative (and the film itself) more tangled within its own web. Because of this, the movie loses a lot of steam as it reaches the final stretch.
Additionally, while the staging of everything is movie works to Håfström’s credit, the director isn’t exactly the absolute best and finds difficulty in making the whole endeavor “even keel” throughout and causing pacing issues. This is most important during the film’s big confrontation in the third act, which seems a bit underwhelming. Plus, the movie doesn’t have fun within its own concept as Håfström keeps the feature in a very serious / dreary tone that it makes a bit of chore to watch. Of course, I’m not expecting the film to have cheesy one-liner zingers or comic relief in the middle of action scene, but a bit more lighthearted moments could’ve helped because the movie just feels like its taking itself too serious and lacks the precision to find a proper balance.
Much like what I said about the film The Old Guard, another Netflix original action movie, Outside the Wire doesn’t quite feel like a theatrical feature film. As I said in my review for The Old Guard, its really hard to explain this aspect quite perfectly (if you know what I mean), but, for lack of better words, the film doesn’t have that “cinematic” quality that one who find in a feature film of this variety. Yes, what’s presented works, but not quite enough, despite the movie’s visual sci-fi polish. The way how everything is shot, presented, and (well) executed all feels like it’s part of a TV series (of course, a good and high quality one mind you), but a TV series none the less and not like a proper film endeavor. Again, it’s really hard to say, so hopefully my explanation will suffice. Overall, Outside the Wire just lacks that theatrical precession that the film desperately graves, including some pretty “meh” parts.
Additionally, the film’s ending is a bit “meh”. Yes, the main conflict gets resolved (as to be expected), but the end point of Outside the Wire is kind of wonky and rather abrupt; leaving a lot to be desired in wrapping up Harp’s journey. I kind of figured maybe a like another scene (like a two- or three-minute scene) to give the feature a proper send-off. Alas, it does not and the final moments of Outside the Wire lacks the impactful last few moments; feeling more like a TV movie ending than a theatrical one (again….one of the things that I felt was a bit wonky in the feature’s presentation).
The cast in Outside the Wire is decent and, while most give good acting performances in the film, the characters themselves feel a bit clunky, especially given that most of them are presented in rather broad strokes. In the feature’s leading roles, actors Anthony Mackie and Damson Idris as characters of Captain Leo and Lt. Thomas Harp. Naturally, Mackie, known for his roles in the MCU as Sam Wilson / Falcon (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War) as well as other films like The Hurt Locker and Altered Carbon, is the feature’s “big ticketed” star of the movie and he certainly holds that position well by grounding the film with his screen presence and acting abilities. Yes, I think that Mackie is solid in the role of Leo and he gives a commanding performance in the character, especially in giving off the whole cocky and arrogant persona / bravado. In this regard, it works. However, as I mentioned above, the character himself is quite similar to Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day and such kind of makes Leo a rather watered down / discounted version of Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris. Likewise, the character of Harp is quite similar to what Ethan Hawke’s Officer Jake Hoyt from the same movie; finding Harp to be the “naive / new recruit” architype. What’s adding a bit more insult to injury is that Idris, known for his roles in Snowfall, Megan Leavey, and Farming, is a bit on the underwhelming side of his acting talents. He’s not terrible, but he really doesn’t stand out in the film, which makes the character of Harp rather bland and formulaic tropes.
Of the supporting players in the movie, actor Michael Kelly (House of Cards and Everest) makes the most lasting impression as the side character of Col. Eckhart, a military colonel who oversees Harp and Leo’s mission. While Kelly’s acting is good and gives a strong on-screen presence in the film, the character himself is rather one-dimensional; depicting the stereotypical military colonel caricature. Still, for better or worse, he is the most memorable supporting character in the movie. While Kelly’s Eckhart is the most memorable, actor Pilou Asbaek (Game of Thrones and Ghost in the Shell) is perhaps the most underutilized in the movie as the film’s antagonist character of Victor Koval. While Asbaek is perfectly fine in the role, the character himself is rather generic (a classic Russian / Eastern European warlord) and he’s only briefly in the movie, despite being played up for a major role. Kind of feels very forgetful and disappointing. Somewhere in the middle of those two players is the character of Sofiya, one of the main members of the resistance movement against Koval’s forces and who is played by actress Emily Beecham (Into the Badlands and Hail, Caesar!). Beecham is okay in the character, but the character is just there to served the film’s narrative in pushing events forward. Again, another missed opportunity and just feels like a “cog in the machine” to Outside the Wire’s story.
Rounding out the rest of the cast is actor Enzo Cilenti (In the Loop and Free Fire) as Miller, actor Henry Garrett (Zero Dark Thirty and Criminal) as Brydon, actor Bobby Lockwood (Dunkirk and Wolfblood) as Reggie, actor Elliot Edusah (1917 and Sitting in Limbo) as Adams, and actress Kristina Tonteri-Young (Warrior Nun and A Christmas Gift from Bob) as Corp. Mandy Bale. Personally, these characters are okay that, while are well-acted, but are just another generic bland caricatures for minor supporting players.
War is never straightforward as Lt. Harp quickly learns this as he must navigate a war-torn land to complete his mission with his enigmatic commanding officer in the film Outside the Wire. Director Mikael Håfström’s latest movie takes the science “near future” fiction setting of militaries using robotic A.I. soldiers and a hostile Eastern Europe takeover plot as the framework and wrapping it all together with classic narrative of new recruit and seasoned veteran mission. Unfortunately, despite the attempts made of moral judgement conflicts, nifty visuals, and action set pieces, the film doesn’t follow through in its sci-fi premise by getting bogged down in a generic narrative, bland plot beats, recycled ideas, and clunky characters. Personally, this movie didn’t do much for me. It was interesting and had some good ideas, but its formulaic nature and overall predictable plot line as well as being hampered by its own execution machinations hold the film back. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “skip it” as it’s sci-fi gimmick of a premise isn’t quite enough to warrant a glance. Basically, just watch Training Day as you’ll get more mileage of it and stirring performance from Washington in the titular role. In conclusion, Outside the Wire wants to be the next “big thing” in the action genre for Netflix, but ultimately comes up short on its own ways and means; fizzling out an interesting premise within its bland seriousness and dreary (and generic) overtones.
2.6 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: January 15th, 2021
Reviewed On: February 22nd, 2021
Outside the Wire is 114 minutes long and is rated R for strong violence and language throughout
Good review Jason. We watched this, and while the action was really good, the plot just seemed muddled and any connection with the characters completely absent. It had lots of potential but for us fell short in just about every category.
Definitely! There was plenty of potential and I was really hoping for the movie to be something great. However, it never materialized.