By definition, this is the best movie of 2021.
“Outside the Wire” stars Anthony Mackie as a cyborg in the year 2036 who partners with a drone pilot (Damson Idris) to deliver vaccines across a warzone. Emily Beecham, Michael Kelly, and Pilou Asbæk also star, while Mikael Håfström directs.
Netflix was one of the few saving graces when it came to 2020, not only keeping awards season somewhat normal with players like “Mank,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” but also keeping us occupied in the early days of quarantine with “Extraction” and “Tiger King.” They recently announced they plan on releasing a new movie every week of the year in 2021, and they start off by giving us “Outside the Wire,” an R-rated sci-fi action film that isn’t without its moments, but also nothing we haven’t seen before.
You can’t go into a film like this with many expectations. The sci-fi genre has been done a thousand different ways, and “robot soldiers in the near future” is no different. Here, Anthony Mackie takes a break from being the new Captain America in the MCU to play a cyborg with a conflicted sense of duty. Mackie is basically playing the same dry and sassy guy he always does, which isn’t a knock or compliment so much as just a statement of fact. Damson Idris actually turns in a solid performance as Thomas Harp, a young drone pilot who is paired with Mackie following disobeying orders during a battle. Idris has a few moments of conflicted nature himself, and has a somewhat moving moment when he is forced to take a human life up-close for the first time, opposed to simply through a computer screen mile away from the actual conflict.
For being a Netflix film, some of the visuals and production values here look pretty cheap. The robot soldiers and drone shots are pretty cool, however most of the kills involve either cheap spurts or awful-looking CGI blood. Some of the fight choreography is impressive, and when director Håfström stages the camera far-enough away from the action that we can see what is going on some of the kills are fun. I doubt this even got the $65 million budget that “Extraction” received, because for every shot that feels like a normal studio blockbuster, there are two that come off like a straight-to-DVD Bruce Willis romp.
The film tries to offer various forms of commentary, but none of them are fleshed out of groundbreaking. The United States is involved in an endless cycle of pointless wars? Wow. Robots are the future of warfare but that isn’t without its risks? You don’t say. Many of these ideas aren’t even introduced until the final act, where the film gets randomly messy. Despite its familiar plot and lack of true ideas, the film is also very self-serious, which ends up hindering it.
“Outside the Wire” isn’t the worst movie of its genre, and since it’s free on Netflix I can recommend checking it out without any guilt on my conscience. It has moments of interest and entertainment, and actually may have been a traditional solid boots-on-the-ground war film that didn’t need to add the sci-fi element. So long as you go in without expecting anything new, deep, or groundbreaking I think there are worse ways to kill two hours, because let’s be honest, what else do we have to do right now?
Critics Rating: 5/10