In the year 2036 a vague but bloody civil war breaks out in Eastern Europe. In its wake a ruthless warlord named Viktor Koval rises to power. As the shadowy Koval expands his grip on the region, the Pentagon pushes back by deploying the US Army along with robotic soldiers called Gumps. Their objective is to serve as peacekeepers, but in a territory full of militia, terrorists, and a healthy Russian military presence, peacekeeping is easier said than done.
And that’s the setup for Netflix’s new futuristic shoot-em-up “Outside the Wire”. The film comes from the studio that made other recent action flicks for the streaming giant, the surprisingly good “Extraction” and the not-so-good “The Old Guard”. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Håfström, this action and sci-fi mashup lands somewhere in between those two aforementioned films. It has plenty of intense action that is built around an interesting though familiar premise. But it’s surprisingly cold and passionless which is odd considering one of its central themes is finding empathy and compassion even on the battlefield.
The film opens on a fierce freeway firefight between US forces and Koval insurgents. Meanwhile at an Air Force Base all the way back in Nevada, a drone operator named Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) munches on gummy bears while coldly observing the combat from above. As the fighting intensifies Lieutenant Harp makes a gut decision, defying direct orders which results in the death of two Marines. His actions put him before an ethics committee where he avoids a court-martial but is demoted￼ to active field duty. The feeling is that he would “exercise greater caution” and view people as more than “collateral damage” if he had a first-hand understanding of combat.
Harp is sent to a military base in the Ukraine and assigned to Captain Leo, a steely hard-nosed soldier who works on his own. “He’s not like us,” warns Michael Kelly’s Colonel Eckhart. Boy he ain’t kidding. Turns out Leo is a state-of-the-art tough-as-nails android. He’s played by Marvel Universe alum Anthony Mackie who has the charisma and pop of a legit action leading man. He takes the rookie ‘outside the wire’ which is an ominous reference to the “lawless frontier” outside of US military control. There they encounter resistance fighters, Koval’s forces, nuclear codes to a doomsday device, and some really sinister intentions.
“Outside the Wire” has some interesting things to say about war, occupying forces, world policing, and the innocent civilians who inevitably get caught in between. But this is ultimately an action flick and there is action aplenty. Much of it works well especially the fight scenes where Mackie gets to show off his grit and athleticism. Then you get the shoot-outs which aren’t as consistently impressive. The smaller scale gunfights tend to be tense and thrilling; the bigger ones not as much. One particular scene outside of a bank encapsulates this. It looks great and has all the moving parts (good guys, bad guys, robots, and hostages that need saving). But it ends up feeling pretty generic. Something’s missing in these bigger battles and I can’t quite put my finger on it.
“Outside the Wire” still delivers enough fun entertainment and it has some interesting story ideas even if it doesn’t see all of them through. We get several eye-catching locations and there is some cool and clever imagination behind the high-tech warfare. If that’s all you’re looking for then Netflix has you covered. And while it might not be a top-rung action flick, I do like seeing Anthony Mackie getting top billing – something I think we’ll be seeing more of in the coming years. “Outside the Wire” premieres January 15th on Netflix.
VERDICT – 3 STARS