A not so recent trope that has plagued the film industry is a lack of originality. Of course, plenty of great films exist that are based on novels or short stories, but the rehashing that occurs today is of a different breed and seems to be on the rise. These sequels, spin-offs, and reboots continue on and there never appears to be a lack of material to work off of.
When not directly related, some films cash in on trends or recycle concepts from previous blockbusters. One such film is a January Netflix release: Outside the Wire. The film falls somewhere in between the good and the bad; it’s not stand-out enough to leave an impression, yet not so bad as to be comically valued. In fact, Outside the Wire feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of a film with gimmicks, concepts, and themes pieced together from other popular films.
Unfortunately, even with all the inspiration in the world, the film lacks a clear sense of self and comes off bland. It’s not simple to pin down where exactly the film goes wrong, but I’ll sterilize, pull on some gloves, and start the autopsy.
The film fails because it attempts to do so much all at once, and in this task it swings for the fences and gloriously misses. The defining culprit is the film’s writing; the plotline, story structure, and dialogue. Under normal circumstances I neglect to share story details, but out of sympathy for those who already suffered through the film I’ve made an exception for this review.
The story consists of an American made robot supersoldier named Leo heavily inspired by Terminator “tasked” with overseeing our protagonist Harp, a task which serves as Harp’s punishment after he breaks chain of command.
The robot pseudo-human supersoldier is played by Anthony Mackie, known well for his MCU fame as The Falcon (although if you know him like I do he will always be, “Clarence, whose parents have a real good marriage” from 8-Mile). Harp is played by Damson Idris, a British actor of relative fame mixed with a scent of obscurity.
The audience follows this pair through an Eastern European civil war in 2036; a war depicted similarly to established war film convention, although this one is sparsely populated with duller, dispensable robot soldiers called Gumps (think ED-209 from Robocop).
As the story plods along the audience learns of lies told about character motivations, nuclear warheads threaten to wipe out America, and the plot twists and turns itself into a tizzy. On the surface this film’s premise sounds normal: it’s a future war story inspired by Terminator. The problem is that the way the story unfolds confounds the audience at every turn (not to mention clunky dialogue being tossed around scene after scene).
This dialogue is the kind of military mumbo jumbo heard throughout war films, plenty of “tango in the LZ we need to charlie circle into a lower latitude with less action,” on top of technology mumbo jumbo attempting to explain the pseudo- AI super robot soldier.
All of this would be fine if the film embraced its cheesy nature and did not take itself so seriously. Instead, Outside the Wire is stuffed with forced, high-concept themes that never see fruition.
For example, the audience is first made to feel like human error is wrong, but the plot is then quickly followed by human soldiers bullying a Gump, claiming a trash-can can’t do a soldier’s job. Then, those bullying soldiers are scolded by Leo to introduce some discrimation theme between humans and technological advances. Counter to this, later in the film the audience finds out that human error is necessary and robots cannot be trusted. As if all this was not enough, the film starts preaching about American foreign policy missteps and moral ambiguity.
Eventually we learn that for certain artificial intelligence cannot be trusted, human error is a problem but required (contradicting earlier themes in the film), and the previously lambasted American foreign policy wins anyway. It all adds up to a long winded film that can’t get itself to focus; two hours that truly feels longer. The film constantly starts a train of thought and then jumps ship – scenes later – onto another theme and thus always interrupting itself.
There are only so many ways I can reword how the film’s writing falls flat on its face, but it’s important to get this idea across. The writing is such a large problem because it undermines the rest of the film’s possible silver linings, its themes especially. Themes of how America benefits from its foreign war interventions, of discerning a moral compass in a warzone, and of “robophobia”, inherent human distrust of the automated and programed, are all interesting. The film trips and falls on its own sword.
What compounds this film beyond just the unfocused or forced writing is the general production of the film. While attempting to access answers to complex questions, the film suffers from only standard production. It seems almost formulated, rarely using attention-grabbing camera work and littered with rapid editing.
The sets and costume design all function fine, mostly grey desolate buildings and streets filled with soldiers and gunfire. Leo’s overall robot design was interesting however, with a strange system to heal himself, essentially super band-aids in context.
The acting was functional as well, although Mackie did feel like he was channeling Will Smith at times, adding a “fresh prince” humor, undermining the heavier subjects with ill timed one-liners. Idris’ acting as Harp was not always something to write home about either, functional once again. That is not to say he did not have some good moments during intense story beats and I will note his American accent fooled me the entire film.
When I think of Outside the Wire, the saying that comes to mind is “run of the mill.” I can commend the film for attempting higher thought theming, but truly the filmmakers ran long before they could walk. The film’s attempts may be its downfall; this potential of what could have been haunts one’s perception of it.
Outside the Wire is so influenced by other films it becomes difficult to conceptualize without comparisons. It feels like a general cheesy summer blockbuster – much like Battleship, Battle for Los Angeles, Live Die Repeat, or any other envisioning of semi-future warfare one can think of. Outside the Wire then inherently comes off as repetitive, perhaps only valuable in a case study, one that explores the pitfalls of having too many ideas not reach maturity.
Written by Damon Rios
Damon is an amateur writer and professional media consumption artist. Movies, music, games, and books are all on the table. He is working towards a bachelor’s in communications and hopes to go professional in any writing capacity. As stated, Damon’s habits rotate from music consumption, to movie consumption, and everything in between.