Mikael Håfström returns to the director’s chair bringing life to a less than subpar action film that does nothing interesting with the genre it tackles or its own promising material. Outside the Wire is a muddy adventure from start to finish that will either have you bored out of your mind or laughing at how absurd and goofy all of it is. Sadly, Rob Yescombe presents a story that wants to address fascinating concepts and subject matter, but due to terrible world building, bad dialogue, and a paper-thin plot, all of it is squandered. Characters have nothing worthwhile to say so good talent from the likes of Damson Idris, Anthony Mackie, and Michael Kelly are all wasted to the point where not even Mackie’s on-screen charisma can pull this dump from the fire. But, many action films with a lack of writing quality and character development can still pass as worth watching for those who wish to sit back and mindlessly watch dumb fun. Yet, not even Outside the Wire can deliver on that front as the action is some of the blandest work I have seen in a long while. Breakneck editing that cuts every half second and shootouts that are completely redundant combine to generate action set pieces that feel unimaginative and stale. From a poorly written script to paper-thin characters and a lack of fun action, everything about Outside the Wire feels like a film that was made for the sake of it.
Outside the Wire is set in the year 2036 during a civil war centered around Russian forces that are seeking to take Ukraine over by any means necessary. A local resistance force holds the line as U.S. troops stationed in a demilitarized zone between both countries does their best to keep the peace. We pick up with UAV drone pilot lieutenant Harp (Damson Idris) who is surveying an active battleground where a platoon of soldiers are pinned down. Seeing an incoming threat, Harp disobeys a direct order killing a pair of soldiers in the process. For his actions, Harp is punished and sent to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) where he is to meet with and train under an advanced new-age android super-soldier named Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie). Once there, Leo explains to Harp all about the current affairs of the war detailing a plan to capture and put an end to terrorist leader, Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk) and his nuclear plan. After their first encounter, Harp learns of Leo’s true inception and the two embark on their mission to save the world from a nuclear war. Along the way, Harp and Leo grow a bond together that sees Leo twist the truth every step of the way until it is too late. Now with a rogue android on the loose, it is up to Harp to track him down and ensure the safety of the globe.
Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale work together to pen the original screenplay for the film, but the story is a creation from the mind of Yescombe himself. From a base starting position, Yescombe does a good job of creating a universe with an assortment of interesting dynamics that range from civil wars, to combat machines, and even nuclear warfare. Yet somehow, the film does everything it possibly can to make none of these elements interesting. Near the very beginning of the film just after Harp and Leo meet for the first time, Leo runs through the brief history of the conflict in one of the laziest exposition dumps I have ever seen. Leo explains that our terrorist leader Koval is a “bad guy” who will commit “bad things”, but we never get the opportunity to see any of it. Without having a basis for understanding what Koval will do and the lengths to which he will go to achieve his goal, there are no stakes invested in what possibly could happen. Random computer files and newspaper clippings are all we get when it comes to explaining character motivation and a reasoning behind how a civil war erupted in Northern Europe. On top of that, with an action film set in the not so distant future of 2036, war machines are bound to be present. However, throughout the entire film’s nearly two-hour runtime, all we get to see are two different types of robot soldiers and a few junkers sprinkled in a single scene. No fun self-driving or self-piloting vehicles, no weaponized drones, and no soldier variants with unique abilities; just a collective of things we have already seen. All of it winds up feeling like a collective of generic “near future” tech that could be found in almost any other sci-fi film that holds the same visual aesthetics which we have all seen before. Sadly, it means that although some fascinating items are present within the world Yescombe created for Outside the Wire, all of it is wasted on a fantasy universe that feels dull.
Outside the Wire not only squanders its interesting world, but it also fails at conveying an engaging story on any level. At the outset, we are introduced to Idris’ character Harp who is a disconnected lieutenant that believes in making the necessary sacrifices for the greater good. And if you were looking for any further character development you will not find it here. Over the course of the film, Harp is challenged and forced to step out of his comfort zone but he virtually remains the same person only slighting changing and growing until eventually gaining an appreciation for the fieldwork of his fellow soldiers. His morals are questioned but throughout the film, he steadily remains an unlikeable character whose insufferable ego only inflates after becoming the hero of his own story. Opposite Idris is Mackie who plays advanced android Captain Leo. Thanks mostly in part to Mackie’s performance, Leo is a character full of life that clearly is meant to be the inverse of Harp and as the film progresses, you can tell that the writers wanted to toy with the ideas of humanity and the cost of life. Yet, it never fully commits to bringing forth an intriguing take that will have your mind questioning those very ideas. Instead, the film brings these points up in small conversations, then moves on never addressing them again to the point where it feels like a checklist of talking points is being consulted all of the time. The sad truth of the matter is that everything Outside the Wire tries to do and say, a dozen of other films have already said and done those things to a much higher level.
What makes Outside the Wire as disappointing as it is, stems not from it just being flat out horrible because if that were true you could clean your hands of the film and forget about it. No, what makes it such a let down is that there are genuinely some interesting concepts and ideas found within the story, it just never manages to develop them in any meaningful way. Håfström’s work behind the camera is nothing special as action scenes are both choppy and boring blurring your focus the entire time, Yescombe and Athale do hardly anything original with the world they set up, and performers across the board are wasted on a less than stellar script. As far as uninspired action movies go, it is par for the course with cheesy to outright bad dialogue, characters that get zero development, and a paper-thin plot that breaks the moment you think about the coincidental circumstances. Yet somehow, the backdrop of a fascinating world that gets no treatment makes Outside the Wire somehow feel even worse.