In his description of a 15-year war in the future, Mikael Hafstrom’s Beyond The Wire does what all the best science-fiction stories do: he uses futuristic science and technology to focus on modernity. This particular case aims to eliminate the human element in the fight, making it commonplace for drones operated by pilots thousands of miles away from conflict zones to carry out operations. It’s brilliant in this attempt, creating a deep dive into the practical theory and tossing some great action into the mix – but it’s still a case of a film trying to do a bit too much.
It’s never amusing to watch Anthony Mackie whip all sorts of butt, and the end of the third act is intended to give rise to a lot of fascinating dialogue. Still, those attributes are mixed with a storyline that’s a little too complicated for its sound. Pairing technological weapons and autonomous troops with a complex Eastern European civil war that engenders the rise of a nuke-hungry militant has resulted in heavy dumps of socio-political publicity (in addition to the on-screen text that starts the film). When attempting to create the universe, a lot of it seems like a cap on a hat when it’s just the main dynamic between the two central characters.
We are first introduced to Lieutenant Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) when he sinks into a combat firefight – though not physically. As a drone pilot, he watches the television’s action far out from the safety of a trailer. When an artillery tank pulls up on the scene, Harp requests permission to fire a rocket, even as his commanding officer and soldiers on the ground call for a stay while two wounded buddies make a rescue attempt. Coldly comparing those people’s lives against the 38 lives that action will save, the pilot lowers his payload and ends the battle.
As a penalty for his insubordination, and in hopes of giving him a better sense of on-the-ground military service, Harp was reassigned to the DMZ in the heart of the war zone and ordered Captain Leo to write (Anthony Mackie). He doesn’t know the service’s specifics, but a trio of surprises quickly strikes him. The first is that he was handpicked to serve under the order of Leo. The second is that they are on a mission outside the DMZ, a.k.a. “outside the wire,” to deter the power-hungry warlord (Pilou Asbaek) from getting his hands on nuclear codes. The third is that Leo is not a human being but rather the most advanced android in the universe.
Although Harp is taking scary strides into the territory he’d previously just soared across like a video game; he enters a world of complicated and threatening chaos where the fight only continues to escalate. Ironically, working with Leo makes him understand the role of feeling in the battle – but at the same time, he starts to know that not everything is as it seems.
When it gets to the core of what it’s trying to mean, there’s a lot to worry about beyond the wire.
In the last section of the story summary, Outside The Wire is most fascinating, as it poses some tremendous moral problems that are discussed entertainingly. Removed from ever seeing the people he kills, Harp will make solely utilitarian choices that sacrifice lives because they represent a reasonable paper option. On the other end of the continuum, one would imagine Leo to share a similar detachment from humanity. Instead, his programming of empathy plays a vital role in his commands in terms of his role in the moment of life or death.
Compared to the specifics of the history of the civil war in Eastern Europe, which can often get dizzy, the film gracefully manages the subject, and it comes to an end after passing through some muddy plot waters, a resolution that demands debate. The least that is said the better for spoiler purposes, but what I’m trying to say is that I’m not going to be disappointed if the viewer is torn about which character – the protagonist and adversary who stays nameless – is actually in the moral right.
Anthony Mackie and Damson Idris have lovely chemistry that makes the best part of Beyond The Cable.
Outside The Wire is much more severe than the comic one. Still, it offers a version of the classic buddies dynamic of Leo and Harp, the former being a hard-nosed veteran and the latter a recalcitrant newbie, and Anthony Mackie and Damson Idris are building an outstanding partnership. As well as posing all the big android questions, Idris is making a terrific surrogate crowd, and just as he’s done in his career, Mackie is making excellent swings from charismatic to commanding. As Harp continues to realize that Leo is willing to work in an extra-jurisdictional manner, one recalls the back-and-forth between Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington on Training Day – but this film is moving in even wilder directions.
Outside The Wire does some fantastic android operation that doesn’t pull the punches.
Not only is it an intelligent science-fiction film set during the future conflict, but Outside The Wire is also committed to being an ass-kicking festival. In that regard, it proves to be an exciting platform for Anthony Mackie to tear down enemy soldiers to the left and the right. Featuring an android superhero – not to mention robotic soldiers named Gumps – it gives the feature a lot of licenses to get stylized in its battle scenes, and Mackie demonstrates some slick skills as he tears through combatants, both hand-to-hand and with weapons (in one very memorable instance, a flag pole). Following last year’s Extraction and The Old Guard, Netflix’s job is to release pulse-pounding action flicks.