The topics of artificial intelligence and the moral ambiguity of modern warfare have been depicted countless times in movies throughout the years. If not done well, these themes can begin to feel tiresome. Set against the backdrop of futuristic, robotic warfare, Netflix’s new film “Outside the Wire” attempts to explore these topics, but ultimately fails to deliver anything fresh or thought-provoking.
The film opens with a dull action scene in which drone pilot Lieutenant Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) disobeys orders by launching a missile strike killing two U.S. Marines while saving 38 others. Lt. Harp is evaluated by an ethics committee for his actions. In order to teach him the ramifications of his job, the committee sends Harp on his first boots-on-the-ground mission under the command of Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), a top-secret, prototype, android super soldier.
The majority of the film’s philosophical intrigue is delivered through the relationship between Harp and Leo. Harp sees the United States as peacekeepers in the Ukrainian civil war, and, because of his background as a drone pilot, lacks any sense of remorse for the people he kills. Every decision he makes is based on calculable risk and acceptable collateral damage. Leo tries to convince him the Americans are not necessarily the good guys in the conflict. Leo tries to teach him the importance of factoring emotion into his decisions on the battlefield.
Although the premise of a robot teaching a human empathy seems interesting at first, the movie fails to complete these character arcs in a meaningful way. Harp’s complete lack of remorse for the lives he takes feels unrealistic, and it is unclear what he is supposed to have learned by the end of the movie. Leo’s true motivations throughout the film are confusing and hidden behind a predictable plot twist that does not deliver on the promises made at the beginning. It feels like “Outside the Wire” is trying to convey deep messages about the United States’ involvement in global conflicts, the dangers of artificial intelligence and the moral ambiguity of modern warfare, but does not know what to say.
There are a few intense fight scenes in which Leo shows off his superhuman capabilities in combat. The concept of an android soldier allows for a certain suspension of disbelief that makes these over-the-top action sequences feel badass. Unfortunately, most of the action scenes do not show off Leo’s combative prowess, and are quite boring as a result. Harp is completely useless in most of the fights, which undercuts the stakes of these scenes entirely. The film could have easily been much a lot cooler, had it focused on Leo’s exceptional powers more.
“Outside the Wire” tries to simultaneously be a deep, sci-fi political commentary and an intense action-thriller but fails on both of these ventures. The characters are uninteresting, and although a few of the action sequences work well, they are overall not exciting enough to carry the mediocre plot. Furthermore, the moral implications explored through the elements of science fiction and war are incomplete. These themes are depicted in more fulfilling ways by other films of these genres.
Rating: 2/5 stars