Outside the Wire features Anthony Mackie engaging in (R-rated) Captain America-like action months before the debut of Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Outside the Wire, Netflix’s most-watched movie since Friday, is a mostly enjoyable “rip-off, don’t remake” sci-fi actioner flick that works as its own thing even as it liberally cribs from lots of Hollywood biggies. Directed by Mikael Håfström (Escape Plan and the delightful Stephen King adaptation 1408), the film stars Damson Idris as a drone pilot who teams up with a top-ranked officer (Anthony Mackie) who turns out to be an android. The film’s plot works as a skewed hybrid of everything from Chappie to Broken Arrow to Training Day to Eagle Eye to Universal Soldier: Regeneration. It also offers Mackie essentially partaking in very Captain America-ish action sequences, months before the debut of Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
I have no idea what the plot of Marvel’s six-episode action thriller show will be, and to what extent Mackie’s Sam Wilson will actually “become” Captain America throughout the first season. But for those who don’t want to wait, Outside the Wire features a few intense action set pieces set amid a war-torn Ukraine which feature a charismatic and engaged (per usual) Mackie essentially “doing the Captain America thing” in a morally murky and R-rated action flick. Sure, had Covid-19 not affected the schedule, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier would have debuted sometime last year, but this is a rare case of a competitor doing what Marvel was going to do before Marvel did it.
As noted last year, while Avengers: Endgame was creeping past Avatar on the global box office charts, one key to Marvel’s success is their use of genre appropriation. This allowed them to diversify their various superhero movies and preempt some of their potential competition. That’s not just the MCU, as comic book movies have been engaging in genre appropriation at least since Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight (a Sydney Lumet-meets-Michael Mann crime thriller starring Batman and the Joker) if not New Line’s Blade (an R-rated Wesley Snipes action thriller that happens to feature a comic book character who hunts vampires). But the last seven years, specifically with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, has seen that hook become paramount to selling these films as “more than just a superhero movie.”
That Russo Brothers-directed actioner was sold as a Tom Clancy-meets-Sydney Pollack spy thriller in tights, complete with Robert Redford in a significant supporting role. In contrast, Ant-Man was sold as a heist flick, Guardians of the Galaxy was positioned as a space opera and Doctor Strange was promoted as somewhat of a mystical kung fu flick. Again, it’s not just the MCU. Fox’s Logan was sold pitched as a gunslinger’s last ride western. The Wolverine was akin to a samurai flick and even X-Men Origins: Wolverine played like a grindhouse Cannon Films actioner. Over the last several years, the superhero industry as a whole, mostly Marvel (Spider-Man: Homecoming as a teen coming of age comedy) and DC (Aquaman as a King Arthur movie), has supplanted the appeal of straight-up genre flicks
What has changed is that the recent Marvel and DC films have beaten their competition to the punch. Sony and/or Netflix is still developing another He-Man movie, but Marvel already gave us Thor: Ragnarok. Heck, you can argue that the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder (starring Natalie Portman as “The Mighty Thor”) preempts a theoretical She-Ra movie too. Paramount is still trying to reboot G.I. Joe (give or take their upcoming Snake Eyes movie), but both Russo-directed Captain America sequels were already there. Even Birds of Prey worked as a candy-colored, femme-centered Guy Ritchie-style gangster flick, opening one week after Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen. So, yes, it’s amusing that Outside the Wire gave us “Anthony Mackie as Captain America” before Marvel did.
Outside the Wire’s admittedly muddled politics seem to run contrary to the overriding notion (when discussing American foreign policy and security states) that the systems are okay as long as the people running them are good. Outside the Wire eventually argues the systems themselves are a net-negative, even if we happen to trust the folks operating them. I don’t think it’s a profound movie, but it’s nice to see a Hollywood flick at least as present-tense aware of politics, in a non-metaphorical sense, as Eagle Eye and Enemy of the State. That said, movies and TV shows (Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Amazon’s Jack Ryan, etc.) set within overseas anti-terror campaigns will feel like they are fighting yesterday’s battles.
Politics and ironic occurrences of a non-Marvel movie delivering on an MCU promise before the genuine article aside, the Mackie/Idris flick feels more like a “real movie” or “the genuine article” than any number of Netflix “mockbusters.” I always appreciate a rip-off that differentiates itself from a remake or reboot. The chemistry between its two top-billed leads provides entertainment value even when stuff isn’t blowing up. The film has a twist or two up its sleeve. The action sequences, especially a second-act set-piece set amid a bank robbery/hostage situation, are elegantly and coherently staged. It’s a solid B movie, with the skewed bonus of letting us see Anthony Mackie as (an R-rated) Captain America before Marvel’s own The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.