After six appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Sam “Falcon” Wilson, Anthony Mackie didn’t need an audition tape for becoming the next Captain America for Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. He gets one anyway as a lead star and producer with Outside the Wire premiering on Netflix January 15th. Playing Leo, an enhanced android super-soldier all his own, Mackie kicks all kinds of ass in furious scenes of hand-to-hand combat mixed with streaks of tracer ammo gunfire. The Rambo: Last Blood stunt coordinator and fight choreographer team of Dian Hristov and Georgi Machev make the soon-to-be-43-year-old look like a million bucks every chance they get.
The gulf between how good Anthony Mackie looks and everyone else in Outside the Wire is as wide as the Mississippi River delta the New Orleans-born actor hails from. Paired with a whiny and clunky younger partner and pitted against the mirage of a paper-thin, nondescript European villain, there’s so little complementary muscle next to Anthony. The overwhelming majority of this futuristic army flick couldn’t arm wrestle a toddler.
Set in 2036, Outside the Wire demarcates a crippling civil war in Eastern Europe that has created pockets of war zones all over the region. A volatile military group led by the ominous Viktor Koval (Danish Game of Thrones actor Pilou Asbæk) has derided the West’s pushy participation. His forces have crept closer to gaining control of old nuclear silos in Ukraine that he can use to strike the United States. The situation has sparked widespread U.S. military involvement from drone strikes to robotic boots on the ground alongside the human ones.
Through the remote warfare side, Outside the Wire introduces drone pilot Thomas Harp, played by emerging British actor Damson Idris of FX’s Snowfall. Shown in an extended opening scene, Harp’s itchy joystick trigger finger caused friendly fire collateral damage that avoidably claimed the lives of two Marines. His coldly-calculated f*ck up leads to reassignment from the cushy comforts of Nevada’s control center to the under-fire front lines of the European conflict zone under the command of Clank (veteran hardass Michael Kelly).
From a writing standpoint, action specialist Rowan Athale (Revolt, Wasteland) and debuting video game writer Rob Yescombe double-down on Thomas Harp’s undisciplined character. He carries a foolish inability to see his errors. Even worse for a military setting, Harp speaks before he’s spoken to and thinks a “with all due respect” is a conversational doorbell of earned inclusion. The stern Clank and (once he meets him) Leo’s tough and obscenity-laden retorts attempt to put the kid back in his necessary place in “watch your f*cking mouth” fashion.
Now, the kid will see real action and his work firsthand, not pixels on the screen. Leo means to rub his nose into it for him to better listen. Will it work? Probably not, yet that will likely (and luckily) work in his favor, as it does in most movies like this with cliched good guys.
Harp is plucked by Leo to be his sidekick and learns very quickly the specialness of his new superior’s existence. The young pilot was more chosen than reassigned by penalty. Leo embarks the duo on a clandestine operation into the demilitarized zone using a cholera vaccine delivery as a cover to track, pursue, and neutralize Koval. The frazzled youngin doubts how two guys can pull this off. To that, Anthony Mackie, through his Leo guise, smirks and drops a Schwarzeneggar-esque, “I’m special for the both of us” one-liner.
Kicks aside, the highest consequence Outside the Wire attempts is criticizing the role of trusting emotions in validated decision-making. The fallibility of human emotions is brought up. A chief objective of Leo’s advanced creation and the movie’s “Gump” robotic infantry units was removing humanity and increasing the fight. Harp asserts that emotions lead to mistakes while the sentient Leo contends that maybe humans aren’t emotional enough. Needless to say, extreme circumstances will cause a few more broken rules and feelings.
As I said before, Anthony Mackie takes this movie over and rightfully so. His android throws Idris’s weak indignation as Harp right back, hiding under Terminator Lite programming that “responds to the asshole in front of me.” He’s having fun busting balls and showing off, and we can too somewhat. Villain motivations don’t matter and the depth of the international peril is superfluous. Director Mikael Håfström (1408, Escape Plan) puts Mackie in a place to succeed, even if his new pissant subordinate steals the win in this mishmash adventure of swerves.