By: Anthony Francis
The all too familiar phrase “In the near future…” is a common beginning to many a cinematic synopsis. It is a description that is becoming more and more common, as modern futuristic films do not go too far into the future, as Hollywood is nervous to give their big budgets to any film that isn’t in a superhero universe. Creating something in the distant future requires money for set design so the safe (and money-saving) bet is to make films not too far from now.
So goes the description for the latest Netflix film “Outside the Wire”. The year is 2036 and there is a war in Eastern Europe. A warlord named Koval has taken aim at any soldier he can find as he fights to get control of nuclear weapons.
British actor Damson Idris plays Harp, a lieutenant who is sent to the war zone at the Ukrainian border after disobeying a direct order and delivering a drone strike that killed two young American soldiers.
Harp has never experienced actual combat and is unprepared for his duty/punishment of being in the most dangerous zone in the war.
Anthony Mackie (also a producer on the film) does well asHarp’s commanding officer, Captain Leo, an Android who is as human as any person fighting this war.
Leo is a “next-generation biotech prototype” who takes the lead in bringing down the warlord Koval before he can get his hands on the nukes.
Leo’s type of android is far more advanced than the “Gumps”, crudely crafted robot warriors who, frankly, are not very useful in many situations. They are almost moving representations of Stormtrooper armor. It looks solid but doesn’t help much.
To complete the mission, Leo and Harp must travel outside of their gated city and into the dangerous militarized zone where insurgents and bad guys lie in wait to kill anyone in a uniform.
There are some good moments between Harp and Leo that touch on the parallels between Artificial Intelligence and humans who are prone to emotions which can lead to error. The film presents the Android Leo as the level-headed one who can stay focused while Harp is the “inhuman” one. As Leo says to Harp, “Maybe humans aren’t emotional enough…”
When the two soldiers first meet (and throughout their mission) their relationship is buddy cop in its presentation. They bicker and there is distrust but eventually the two find a middle ground and a camaraderie. Both actors do good work in their roles.
As the two make their way through the danger, the audience is treated to well-handled action moments. Lots of explosions and gunplay are mixed in with some solid stunt work.
A standout sequence has Leo in a building fighting man and machine as a drone strike is heading his way. This sequence makes great use of parkour and acrobatics as Leo traverses a massive stairwell, punching and kicking and shooting his way through the villains.
Eventually, a darker threat is revealed, and the mission becomes more dangerous than Harp can imagine. The line between the good guys and bad guys becomes blurred as the fate of the entire Unites States hangs in the balance.
The screenplay was written by Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe. Athale has a few Action/Thriller writing credits in his filmography but Yescombe has only written for the video game industry.
While I am not a gamer, I recognize the plots and characters in today’s video game world are well crafted and real creativity is giving to their structure.
While this screenplay is fairly well done and does its best to touch on some philosophical issues pertaining to humanity and the devastating effects of war, the writer’s desire to pay homage to too many Sci-Fi films gets in the way.
The screenplay dips into films such as “Blade Runner”, “Robocop”, “District 9”, and especially the “Terminator” series.
The references to James Cameron’s “Terminator 1&2” are in almost every plot point and spill out into the finale, the film’s message, and even to the way Leo runs, as his movement mirrors (rips off?) Robert Patrick’s T-1000 from “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”.
The action scenes are well directed, and the audience is thankfully spared from the shaky-cam madness that has overtaken the modern Action film. That said, the good action isn’t enough to overcome the bland screenplay.
Director Mikael Hafstrom is a director who doesn’t always thrill me, but I am a big fan of his undervalued 2013 film “Escape Plan” with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a good old-fashioned actioner with two giants of the genre. Hafstrom kept the action tight and was working with a good screenplay that gave his two actors a lot to dig into.
For this latest film, Hafstrom proves his skill with an action sequence but he cannot seem to make the screenplay any more exciting.
The film becomes a journey of fits and starts that is ultimately overlong and merely serviceable. It’s a film with an anti-war message that revels in gunplay, a good idea that never fully realized.
“Outside the Wire” ends up as a watchable but instantly forgettable Action film that sets up a good premise but does nothing new. A film where the fun and the dull battle for our attention. Sadly, by film’s end, the dull wins.
Outside the Wire is Now Streaming on Netflix