A drone pilot is sent into a deadly militarized zone where he finds himself working for an android officer tasked with averting a doomsday scenario in Outside the Wire, the latest high-profile feature film from Netflix. This one stars Anthony Mackie as the android protagonist, fresh off his stunning performance in the sci-fi indie film Synchronic (included in our roundup last month of the best films released in 2020). That, and Netflix’s solid track record with its feature films, are reason enough to be intrigued.
Per the official synopsis:
In 2036, America serves as a peacekeeping force and human troops on both sides are supported by robot combatants called Gumps and drone pilots monitoring skirmishes from thousands of miles away. But after headstrong drone pilot Lieutenant Harp (Damson Idris) disobeys a direct order to intervene in a conflict, the Army deploys him to a military outpost to confront the human costs of his button-pushing.
Harp’s expectations of guarding a fence are upended when his new commanding officer Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie) announces plans to infiltrate the demilitarized zone and apprehend Viktor Koval (Pilou Asbæk), a warlord who intends to launch a network of dormant nuclear weapons. Soon, Harp learns that his theoretical experience as a drone pilot means little out on the battlefield under enemy attack—especially after discovering that Leo is an A.I.-enhanced supersoldier whose strength, speed and demand for results promise to turn his real-world education into a trial by fire.
That pretty much sums it up. The trailer opens with Harp showing up for his reassignment, apparently because he has trouble following the rules—or, as Leo (the classified prototype supersoldier) prefers to think of it, an ability to “think outside the box.” A bit of a buddy-cop vibe separates the two, with Leo teasing his subordinate about the mushy inscription on the back of Harp’s girlfriend’s photo (“Awwww… ‘my gummi bear….'”). We learn that Leo is capable of human emotion despite his extensive combat training (or, er, programming), and has a neat trick of temporarily removing his tracker when he wants to go off the grid (“Sometimes you got to get dirty to see any real change”). Then the fisticuffs, property damage, and explosions kick in.
Netflix has had great success with its high-profile action features, and as a fan of the genre in general, normally I’d say this looks promising, especially given Mackie’s involvement. (Did I mention he crushed it in Synchronic?) But this might not be the kind of messaging Americans really want to hear right now, one day after violent insurrectionists stormed the nation’s Capitol, calling themselves “patriotic heroes” to justify flagrantly breaking the law.
This is not at all the fault of Netflix, because Outside the Wire was written and filmed in August 2019. But context matters when it comes to what appeals to viewers at any given time, and now might not be the best timing for its release. Then again, maybe we’ll just find it cathartic to watch an escapist film about a futuristic supersoldier and his plucky sidekick foiling Koval’s dastardly plan.
Outside the Wire hits Netflix on January 15, 2021.
Listing image by YouTube/Netflix