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‘Outside the Wire’ Review

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

‘Avengers’ Sequel Delivers in Big Way

Avengers_Age_of_UltronA few weeks ago Hollywood gave us “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” a sequel no one asked for. Now we have “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a sequel most everyone has been asking for since the moment they walked out of the theater after seeing the first Avengers in 2012.

All your favorite superheroes are back in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and many more. This time around, the group must stop an artificial intelligence being known as Ultron (played by James Spader) from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon returns as writer/director.

Being the sequel to a global phenomenon like “The Avengers,” not to mention following arguably three of the better Marvel movies (and the worst in “Thor 2”), “Ultron” had a huge shoes to fill. And for the most part, it follows up its predecessors with great success.

Right off the bat, the best thing about “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the dialogue, and the interactions it creates for its characters. There is plenty of heart and soul in this sequel, but also honestly, as of May, this is the funniest film of 2015. Utilizing Robert Downey Jr.’s amazing charm and wit, the film gives him and the other Avengers hilarious one-liners and banter, but at the same time never feels like it is sacrificing its dignity for the sake of a joke.

The film is also filled with some of the most fun and ingenious action shots I may have ever seen in. I won’t ruin any of them, but Whedon really played around with moving the camera, and it resulted in some pretty amazing shots. The variety of action scenes vary, and each one brings a different flavor to the film. The opening sequence of “Ultron” is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time.

“Ultron’s” biggest asset may also be its biggest flaw, and that is in the writing. While the dialogue is fantastic, the plot itself is a bit messier. Characters receive life-threatening injuries simply to have the scene abruptly end and they are never heard of again. Did they live? Did they die? Did they find Jimmy Hoffa? Who knows. Ultron also doesn’t seem to know what exactly his master plan is, continuously switching how he wants to achieve his goal. And then there is this “rare chemical” that seems to have a half dozen different uses, depending on what the plot needs from it (come on, “Avengers,” leave that lazy writing for “Thor 2”).

The finale is also a bit overlong, eventually becoming faceless villain henchmen being lined up like cattle for slaughter (same situation as “Iron Man 3” and the first “Avengers,” so if you were fine with it there then this isn’t going to irk you).

There really isn’t too much wrong with “Avengers: Age of Ultron” from a summer blockbuster perspective. It’s a lot of colorful fun, and if that’s all you want, then you’re going to love every minute of it. If you were hoping for a mind-blowing epic that redefined the superhero genre, then it won’t meet those expectations, however it’s entertaining as anything, never feels like its 2+ hour runtime, and you get 11 superheroes for the price of one ticket. How many times can you say that?

Critics Rating: 8/10



‘Captain America’ Sequel Fun and Thrilling

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier            It’s official: summer has come early this year. The snow hasn’t completely melted and spring is not even two weeks underway yet thanks to “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, the summer movie season has begun and we can all feel a little bit warmer (which is ironic, seeing as the film has the word ‘winter’ in the title…).

Once again starring Chris Evans as the man in red, white and blue spandex, this sequel follows Captain America trying to adjust to the present day. When a new enemy known only as the Winter Soldier poses a threat to the world, the Cap teams up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to save the day. Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo direct.

The first “Captain America” film was alright, although it was certainly the weakest entry of the initial Marvel Avenger films. And after the fun “Iron Man 3” and the disappointing (and forced) “Thor 2”, it really was anyone’s guess as to how this “America” sequel would be. What we end up getting is an immensely entertaining popcorn flick that is the best Avenger movie since the original “Iron Man”.

There are just so many things that “Winter Soldier” does right. First things first, the action is well-shot. The film uses wide-shots instead of the close-ups that hinder many PG-13 action films, making the action clear and comprehensible. The Russo brothers seemed to be an interesting choice to direct a big budget superhero film as they’re known for directing TV  comedies like “Arrested Development” and “Community”, but the two have a steady hand with the gunplay sequences, and keep things moving at a solid pace when the guns aren’t going off.

When the film isn’t being an entertaining action film, it is a very well-done political thriller. There are numerous whodunit moments, and it keeps you guessing for a while. Much like Captain America you are not sure who to trust or who may be behind the plot. Film legend Robert Redford steps in to play the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D, and he brilliantly blends taking the role seriously while at the same time knowing he is in a comic book movie, so he hams it up just a tad. It is a solid performance that gives the film some real credibility.

The one thing I can think to knock “Winter Soldier” for is that it does feel a bit overlong; let’s just say it won’t be taking home the Oscar for best editing. That doesn’t mean the film is ever boring, it just feels like it could have been about 15 minutes shorter. But hey, as Samuel L. Jackson says in the movie, we don’t live in a perfect world.

I loved most every minute of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. It is made for comic book fans and casual moviegoers alike. Do you love gun battles? Good, see this movie! Do you enjoy superhero fist fights? Good, see this movie! Are you a fan of intense political thrillers? Good, see this movie (I can’t help but think of that DiCaprio “Wolf of Wall Street” speech as I just reread that).

Critics Rating: 9/10