‘Outside The Wire’ review: dystopian war thriller wastes its greatest weapon

Fewer righteous sermons about war please, more of Anthony Mackie smashing up bad guys

When he’s not patrolling the skies of the MCU as Falcon, Anthony Mackie is busy becoming Netflix’s go-to action star. From sci-fi murder mystery Altered Carbon to one of the best Black Mirror episodes, it’s likely you’ve seen him on the streaming service at some point, and this week he returns to the platform with AI thriller Outside The Wire.

The film begins in 2036, when the US army has been deployed to a dangerous warzone in eastern Europe. On their side is Mackie’s muscular android officer Leo, who has been assigned as mentor to a wet-behind-the-ears drone pilot Thomas (Damson Idris). Together, they must find a missing doomsday device before it falls into enemy hands.

Outside The Wire
Damson Idris and Emily Beecham in ‘Outside The Wire’. Credit: Netflix

Outside the Wire has been marketed around Mackie’s action hero capabilities – and with solid reason. As a combat-trained robot who can feel pain, the actor is assured and quietly sympathetic when needed, but there’s much more fun to be had in watching Leo nail complex, high-octane stunts as his storyline draws him into increasingly hazardous territory. It’s frustrating then, that we have to wait nearly an hour before Mackie’s full potential is unleashed, instead slogging through clunky exposition and meandering, forgettable backstory about lacklustre characters.

When things eventually take a turn for the violent, director Mikael Håfström (Escape Room, Bloodline) tries to make up for lost time. Bones crunch as they’re bent at wrong angles, neon-red blood gushes from gunshot wounds and men and women are shot at close range. A hostage situation, which goes badly, hopes to offer some pointed commentary on the ruthless nature of war. Underlying motivations, namely from Emily Beecham’s local humanitarian, further probe into the moral fabric of conflict and the lengths people will go to further their cause.

Outside The Wire
Mackie fronts up to Pilou Asbæk. Credit: Netflix

Yet these messages aren’t really developed properly. In turn, the portrayal of war-torn Europe appears uncomfortably dated for a future-set film. Håfström would have had more luck if he’d stripped Outside the Wire of its heavy-handed message and focused on Mackie’s gravity-defying skillset instead. At his heel, Idris itches to get stuck into the carnage, but is instead relegated to playing the film’s strait-laced moral compass.

Mostly, Outside the Wire lands as self-righteous, failing to say anything new despite the freeing nature of its dystopian landscape and talented leading man. Mackie’s action career will continue, that’s certain, but no one will be raving about this Netflix B-movie in years to come.

Details

  • Director: Mikael Håfström
  • Starring: Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris, Emily Beecham
  • Release date: January 15 (Netflix)
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