Do androids dream of the nuclear apocalypse?
(c) Netflix. Video Courtesy of Netflix via Youtube.
A project that seemed to be following the logical fallacy of style over substance, Outside The Wire, has enough bright lights and loud noises to keep audiences engaged but the film’s inconsequential plot and unwillingness to stick with any one theme long enough to make a statement leaves it utterly toothless.
In the near future, US drone pilot Harp (Damson Idris) disobeys a direct order and launches a drone strike, killing 2 US marines but saving the rest of the troop. As a result, Harp is dropped into the middle of a Ukrainian civil war between Pro-Russian insurgents and the local freedom fighters. He’s assigned to Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie) as he tracks down international terrorist Victor Koval before he unleashes nuclear armageddon on the world.
Now, if that plot seems a bit too cut and dry for you, don’t worry because you’re not going to get bored watching this movie. In fact, you’re going to spend more time confused and frustrated by the multiple plot twists the movie pulls on you that are so predictable they’re pretty much non-events. I think most screenwriting software includes these plot twists in their standard action film template.
With the plot being nothing more than a bland box-ticking exercise, maybe it’s using this utter mediocrity to lure you in and ask tough questions of the audience?
Don’t bet on it.
At the beginning of the film, you think it’s trying to make a statement about the human cost of war or collateral damage when other characters question whether Harp did the right thing or not. Thing is, the film has an important character flat out tell Harp he was in the right, torpedoing any chance of a nuanced discussion. The film shifts onto the disassociation caused by technological reliance, dehumanisation of the enemy, and the role of AI on the battlefield in rapid-fire succession. Don’t worry, these are all tackled on an extremely surface level and discarded just as quickly as they began.
The AI angle is the film’s last chance for any nuance that’s led into the forest and forced to dig its own grave to make room for all the last-minute plot twists. Normally, I’d avoid spoiling anything for you but I don’t want you to waste 1hr 54 mins of your life that you’re never getting back. It turns out Leo sees the United States as the enemy and his real mission is to get the nukes, turn them on the US and leave them crippled and unable to enter into foreign conflicts. All the things Leo has been getting Harp to do was all to hide him from surveillance.
So, Leo’s a poor man’s Skynet, so what?
Exactly. The film uses this twist to set Harp’s character up for a heroic final mission tracking Leo down and stopping him. The main stumbling block is that the ending doesn’t feel earned because Harp is not an engaging character in the slightest. There’s no arc, no real journey, just a lot of moments strung together in the hope that it corresponds to character growth. Maybe the film’s got at least one ace up its sleeve with its ending?
The final duel could have given the film a fitting ending – sorry interesting ending – like humans suffering for their reliance on technology with a WMD strike. See how that ending ties together the film and gives them a message that hits home. While we’re in imaginary land how about we imagine a better film to watch. The ending we get is your painfully generic ending where Harp defeats Leo and gets to walk off into the sunset.
That’s the whole issue I have with this story. The American forces are portrayed as “the good guys” even though they’ve imposed themselves on a civil war they don’t understand and leaving innocent bodies in their wake. They aren’t held accountable even though their superweapon went rogue and almost created a nuclear firestorm. It’s black and white, right and wrong, with no shades of grey… you know, just like real life. The fact this film’s sci-fi makes no difference. Set it in the cold war and you’d get exactly the same result – shit.
Now the question remains: is there anything close to redeemable about this movie?
Credit where it’s due; Mackie and Idris have decent chemistry acting together and they do their best to make the generic dialogue at least bearable to sit through and not putting you to sleep straight away. The special effects are pretty enough - loud and bright enough to distract the audience - but isn’t so memorable that it doesn’t stick with you after the film is over. The constant assault of lights and sounds turns into white noise by the end, or that may have just been me zoning out as I tried to stave off boredom.
The action, much like the special effects, is serviceable enough but nothing caught my attention or made me care. It all just felt inconsequential. You knew who was going to win, how it was going to play out… wow I couldn’t even praise the film without adding qualifiers.
Overall, this has been the only film in recent memory where I’ve wished I had fallen asleep during it just to make it end sooner.
Have you seen Outside the Wire? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.
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