Like their inspired forefathers, several modern science fiction yarns utilize contemporary plights to ruminate on vital cultural conceits. Our society’s over-reliance upon AI technology meshes seamlessly with the genre’s explorative idealism, allowing adept filmmakers to digest this ever-changing dynamic. Netflix’s latest sci-fi actioner Outside the Wire utilizes genre machinations to highlight society’s distrusting and abusive attitudes towards tech. Its thematic grasp may outstretch the narrative’s reach, but director Mikael Håfström ably constructs a capable meat-and-potatoes actioner around its intriguing ideas.
In a near-future where robots serve as hapless grunts, Outside the Wire follows Thomas Harp (Damon Idris), a decorated drone pilot sent on a dangerous mission after breaking orders. He teams up with Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), a top-secret android officer attempting to stop a nuclear attack. To prevent a new world war, Thomas must preserve in his challenging new role while debating whether to trust his sentient captain.
An AI-driven future isn’t particularly revelatory, yet credit to screenwriters Rob Yescombe and Rowan Athale for carving their own pathway amongst the crowded subgenre. The two wisely ruminate on the moral and personal conflicts inherent within AI warfare, with robots matter-of-fact decision-making failing to assess a situation’s humane circumstances. Like astute science fiction films should, the duo draw upon our tech-dependent environment when critiquing society’s over-reliance and lackluster understanding of tech’s limitless potential. Athale and Yescombe also draw an engaging actioner yarn in the process, including a clever third-act twist that spices up the familiar formula.
As a straight-forward actioner, Outside the Wire delivers what audiences are looking for. Mikael Håfström continues to operate as an assured director-for-hire, aiding the film’s busy action frames with his poised camera work (it’s refreshing to see an actioner not overplay the shaky-cam trope most films overuse). Håfström and his team also build a lived-in dystopian setting for audiences to invest in.
He meshes the boots-on-the-ground grit of war procedurals with textured sci-fi design work, which helps further ground the material in a level of realism. Stars Damon Idris and Anthony Mackie further bolster the film’s appeals through their capable abilities. I especially enjoyed seeing Mackie play off the typically cerebral presence of AI creations, infusing the character with a raw bravado that keeps audiences on their toes.
Outside the Wire rarely takes a major stumble, but the film can’t shake its lingering sense of familiarity. The script’s Robocop-lite ideals aren’t infused with enough brains to re-work their inherent purpose, often reminding audiences of superior science-fiction efforts. One could see how the script could unleash a substantive experience, but Athale and Yescombe’s effort largely settles for your standard tropes. The central narrative falls into mostly routine territory while the characters are left feeling paper-thin in the process.
Hardened science fiction fans may not take to Outside the Wire’s simplistic approach. For what it is though, Håfström cooks up a competent vehicle with his familiar ingredients.
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