Netflix’s first original film of 2021 is Outside the Wire, a science fiction action thriller directed by Mikael Håfström (1408, Escape Plan). The film takes place in 2036 in the middle of a war. After Lieutenant Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) saves 38 men but loses two in a drone strike, he must team up with an android officer named Leo (Anthony Mackie) to prevent a nuclear attack.
In the past, Netflix has had a consistent track record of putting out perfectly watchable yet forgettable action films (Project Power, The Old Guard), and this is yet another addition to that less-than-stellar collection.
When you have a film with a premise surrounding a future war with machines, there is a lot of potential for amazing action sequences. Parts of this film feel like a Terminator movie set entirely in the future war with human soldiers and, as the robot killers are called in this film, Gumps.
But this film falters in its execution of that premise, as this is not the fun shoot-em-up cheesy action film you may expect, but it is instead a dark, violent thriller with a few good action sequences throughout. This is a movie about making tough decisions in war and the effects it has on innocent civilians.
It’s not nearly as fun as you may expect. The action is generally workmanlike, with very repetitive scenes of humans and Gumps firing machine guns, but it rarely gets more dynamic than that. The best the film has to offer is a bank shootout because it is the only time the movie appears to be having any fun with its premise.
Mackie does a great job with this role. You can tell he does many of his stunts himself, and it’s an excellent physical performance with a ton of charisma as well. Idris portrays the protagonist, and he does a fine job portraying the character’s growth as he experiences new things.
The film's primary issue is how the script wastes its potential on a generic, forgettable approach to sci-fi action. The Gumps seem only to exist to ground the film in its futuristic setting, but they do very little in the story besides shoot at people.
Perhaps the film’s biggest disappointment comes with its final act. In terms of action, the movie peaks halfway with the thrilling bank sequence, but afterward, nothing lives up to it. Instead of an emotionally powerful and exciting final battle, we instead get a missile about to launch and a few gunshots.
It’s an incredibly underwhelming setpiece that goes more for an emotional finale that doesn’t quite pay off. Another area where the film falters is the characters.
The development of these characters is minimal. Leo is the most fleshed out in terms of his rationale and backstory, but as an android, there’s little for the audience to connect to. Harp is the protagonist, but there’s little emotion and heart with his character besides brief scenes where he looks at a photo of his girlfriend.
He has an arc directly tied with the movie’s message, but there is very little that grounds him and gets the audience to empathize with his experiences. Furthermore, the supporting cast has very little to do, with Emily Beecham’s character of Sofia appearing for a few scenes but essentially getting forgotten about by the end.
While Outside the Wire is not a bad film, the story and characters leave a lot to be desired. The action scenes are generally mediocre, and while there could have been a lot of fun with the premise, the climax is disappointing. This subpar sci-fi thriller has little else besides its decent performances and stuntwork.
Grade: ★★✬☆☆ [5/10, C]
Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout