Directed by Mikael Hafstrom
Written by Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe
Netflix has become a heavy hitter when it comes to movies in recent years, rolling out not just run of the mill streaming service content, but legitimate hits and awards contenders. They were initially met with criticism and reticence from the film community, who felt that to exhibit films in a streaming setting was a disservice to cinema. I have to admit, I was an early adopter of this mindset. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the film industry has shifted massively, and done so much quicker than anyone could have imagined. I think the general consensus has shifted to be much more accepting of watching new movies at home. While the movie theater experience will come back, and still be a wonderous experience, I think we can all expect a great deal more streaming, and with it the more low-budget, smaller films will likely find homes on streaming instead of theatrical releases. I say all this because Netflix recently announced it will be releasing a new movie every week in 2021, with a grand total of 70 original films in the new year. This is a great deal of quantity from one studio in a year, so the question will certainly be whether the quality can be consistently great. My suspicion: it certainly won’t be.
Outside the Wire follows the story of Lieutenant Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), a young, hotshot drone pilot helping to fight an Eastern European civil war in the near future as part of the American military, who are involved in a peacekeeping capacity. But after trusting his gut and disobeying a direct order, which results in two American casualties, Harp is meant to be taught a lesson by being sent directly to the front lines, and away from both his cozy drone cockpit in the safety of Nevada, but also his fiancée. Upon arriving on the front lines, he learns he is not well liked for his actions, but gets assigned to Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), who it turns out is a prototype android soldier. They set off “outside the wire” of base on a unique mission to find and kill Victor Koval, the leader of the Krazny group partially responsible for the civil war in hopes of ending the conflict. But Harp quickly realizes that not everything is as it seems and he is certainly no longer in the safety of his cockpit.
I think I led this review with a discussion of the volume of Netflix movies this year, and the possibility that some wouldn’t be that great for a few reasons. One: because, well, we all know that not all 70 will be great, let alone even good, although there will certainly be a fair share of good/great movies. Two: Outside the Wire is not that good overall. But also three: that’s okay! Netflix is casting a wide net both in terms of volume and also genre. They’ll likely produce a small handful of action movies, sci-fi movies this year and few of them might be decent, and fans of that type of movie will be satisfied. I think Outside the Wire fits that bill nicely. It doesn’t manage to really do anything new or unique, but it also doesn’t do it poorly. It may come and go as you watch it, leaving no indelible impression, but it’s fine entertainment while it lasts. There is sci-fi intrigue, there are action shootout scenes, and especially the two leads, Anthony Mackie and Damson Idris, are capable performers.
There is something to be said for come-and-go content, the type of which you can escape into for a few hours and then move along. This is exactly that as there is nothing really offensively bad about it, but there just isn’t anything outstandingly great either. Straight down the middle results in a very watchable product that can be thrown away just as easily as it was picked up. In other words, it’s perfectly suited for the streaming platform experience. Now, we should certainly always demand for quality content from all of our outlets, but from a business model perspective, Netflix is just concerned with getting users to click on the movie, and I think the vast majority that see Outside the Wire while scrolling, will click and stay tuned throughout. So from that perspective, it should be a success for Netflix. But in terms of action/sci-fi films, it’s nothing special.