OUTSIDE THE WIRE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The future of modern warfare awaits Alexander Wallace.
They say war never changes; those who read the history of warfare will say that is not entirely true. Technology changes the dynamic of slaughter immensely; take the airplane or the atomic bomb or the drone. Such technology naturally brings about ethical qualms; for example, when is it justified to unleash atomic hellfire on a city filled with innocents? It is one of those innovations that undergirds the entire framework of Outside the Wire, a new science fiction offering by Netflix starring Anthony Mackie, of Marvel fame.

One of the big criticisms of the Marvel movies that Mackie has so often acted in is that they assume that a mostly American group of heroes, backed by big business much of the time, has some right, if only that of might, to interfere in other countries; Captain America: Civil War makes this most clear, but I also noticed it a bit in The Falcon in the Winter Soldier. Here. Mackie takes center stage in a film that does not beat around that particular bush, but rather tackles it head on. He does so not as a serviceman per se, but as a more anthropomorphic version of that which has been the focal point of so much controversy in recent years: a drone.

The American drone program will occasionally make news when it does such unsavory things as transform a blissful wedding in Yemen into a smoldering crater; other than that, it tends not to register much among the American public. Outside the Wire casts this in stark, speculative terms in a fictional near-future American military deployment in Ukraine, specifically around its capital of Kyiv. This, unlike some movies (looking at you, Moldova in Spectral), actually makes a modicum of sense; Ukraine is the site of one of those post-Soviet ‘frozen conflicts’ that never seems to end, and has been the focus of a great deal of American concern. I do think it is rather daring of the Pentagon to authorize such a deployment in a country so close and so dear to Russia, but the Pentagon has never been the wisest.

I will note to you that I am biased in that I used to aspire to serve in the United States Foreign Service, but swore off ever doing so after reading about the actual humanitarian effects of American foreign policy.

Mackie, as Leo the humanlike drone, carries with him a certain trepidation with that which he is doing. He’s only a few months old when the movie takes place; he is an artificial intelligence that really earns the latter word, as he has developed far beyond his programming and knows that something is up with what he is doing, and he very much has his own agenda. He plays very well off of First Lieutenant Harp (played very well by Damson Idris), who is your audience surrogate, a relatively ‘normal’ Marine drone pilot (who actually operates the vehicle a distance away from the front) who is grappling with the fact that he killed three of his fellow marines in a combat zone in an attempt to save many more. It’s honestly an inspired pair of foils; you have the man who is conflicted about how he uses the future, and you have the personified future himself.

The central question of Outside the Wire is ‘what are the moral demands of the users of a new technology?” and combines it with potent moral questions about using power to ensure peace. It is about the duty of the soldier (or in this case, the marine, but the basic idea stands), and what a soldier must do when his cause is less than just. It is about who follows orders, and which orders. I can’t help but think a decade or so down the line this film will be regarded as eerily prescient; you can almost see this happening within our lifetimes.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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