Published On: Mon, Apr 20th, 2020

Code 8 Offers a Grounded Crime Thriller with Powered People

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SPOILER ALERT: This review discusses plot points of Code 8, but not the ending.

When it comes to superhero stories, there is little new territory to explore. As the genre has become one of the most profitable in Hollywood history, every major studio is competing to franchise whatever intellectual property they can get their hands on. But while the studio system churns out endless franchises, there is originality to be found in independent film.

Indie superhero films like Fast Color, Chronicle, and Defendor expand on the themes we’re familiar with, adding style and substance to the genre with varying degrees of success. The latest entry is Code 8, a grounded sci-fi crime thriller starring Stephen Amell and Robbie Amell.

The Amell cousins are well versed in superheroics. Stephen has spent the last 8 years headlining the CW’s Arrow as Oliver Queen, while Robbie has portrayed Ronnie Raymond/Firestorm on companion series The Flash. But the Amells are a long way from their CW soapy polish in Code 8.

Code 8 opens with a dizzying amount of exposition: 4% of the population are People With Powers (PWPs) and have been in America for decades, helping to win World War II and working to construct Lincoln City, the “City of Tomorrow”. But soon automation takes over their jobs, and people start blaming PWPs for taking their jobs and claiming that they are a danger to society. With a ban on powers in effect, many PWPS have turned to selling their spinal fluid, which is sold as an opioid-like drug called Psyke. In present day, PWPs are impoverished second-class citizens and heavily policed by drones, which carry robo-cops known as Guardians.

It’s a blunt metaphor for the immigrant struggle, but it’s effective nonetheless. The film centers on Connor Reed (Robbie Amell)a class 5 Electric (meaning he can control electricity), who struggles to find construction work. His mother, who has freezing powers, is suffering from a brain tumor that makes her lose control of her powers. Connor is desperate for money to help his mother, so he allows himself to be recruited by a criminal gang of PWPs, lead by the charismatic Garrett (Stephen Amell) who is telekinetic.

Together, the gang works under crime lord Marcus Sutcliffe, a telepath, whose girlfriend Nia (Kyla Kane) is a Psyke-addicted PWP with healing powers. From there, the film turns to your standard crime thriller. Garrett takes Connor under his wing and trains him to hone his powers. Garrett also believes that PWPs shouldn’t be beholden to oppressive laws, and that they should take what they want. As the crew escalates from robbery to a multi-million dollar heist, the film hits all the familiar beats of a heist movie.

Code 8 began as a short film, which functioned as a teaser to crowdfund a feature length version. The team raised $ 3.4 million via an Indiegogo campaign, and was able to make the film, which has seen massive success on Netflix. However, while the film is entertaining, it struggles with massive plot holes that were perhaps not readily apparent in the short.

If Garrett is a telekinetic, then why does he need Connor to fry an electric fence? Can’t he just destroy it himself? And why is everyone using guns and dodging bullets when Garrett can simply float the guns away using his powers? The rules of the PWPs are muddled and unclear, leading to several logic gaps that aren’t addressed in a satisfying way.

Then there’s the ranking of PWPs into classes, which isn’t fully explored. How many different powers are there? Can you hide powers without being noticed by the government? And while the Amells acquit themselves well, the supporting characters are thinly drawn and not well acted.

There is a rich world to explore here, and it seems that the Amells will get the opportunity to delve further into the tales of Lincoln City. The Amells and director Jeff Chan have sold a spin-off series to Quibi.

Code 8 is streaming now on Netflix.

Have you watched Code 8? What did you think?

(image: Vertical Entertainment)

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