One of my major gripes with comic book films lies in the overall stakes of the game. Although Earth or maybe even the universe is in danger, the main superheroes often live to fight another day. Code 8 throws a highly welcome wrench to the proceedings, as the superhumans are now behind the proverbial eight ball, and their lives are precariously hanging in the balance.
In the world of Code 8, four percent of the population has super powers. It’s more a curse than a gift, as this minority is essentially cast off by society and highly monitored by the police. Connor’s (Robbie Amell) ability to manipulate electricity at a high level (his “type” is dubbed as an “electric”) may be a sight to behold, but that doesn’t pay the bills. Making ends barely meet as a day laborer, Connor is desperate for a bigger cash payout to help his dying mother (Kari Matchett).
Enter the telekinetic Garrett (Stephen Amell), an opportunistic crime boss who hires Connor to join his crew. Garrett answers to Marcus (Greg Bryk), an erratic boss whose screw ups are frowned upon by a mysterious and powerful organization known as The Trust. There is a highly detailed food chain in this crime organization, and Garrett is focused on climbing the ladder with the powerful Connor in tow.
The project started off as a highly praised short in 2016, and director Jeff Chan, along with Robbie and Stephen Amell (they are cousins), mounted a successful crowdfunding campaign to help get their ambitious feature made. Sans millions of dollars of support from a big studio, Code 8 was a labor of love that may have playing against all odds. That gamble thankfully paid off as the film is blessed with lean and muscular storytelling (Chris Pare penned the script) and Robbie Amell successfully anchors the narrative.
Running a brisk 98 minutes, Chan avoids cliched sentimentality and over the top dramatic moments, and he simply keeps the story moving forward without any wasted motion. The sacrifices, of course, is that we really don’t get too much of a backstory behind Psyke (the drug that is the #1 item for traffickers) or the Robocop-esque enforcers known as The Guardians. Code 8 introduces us to the world of Lincoln City without fully delving into the inner workings of the environment, but ultimately I found that extremely refreshing. Sung Kang, who plays the empathetic lead officer on the trail of Garrett’s outfit, is also an added plus to the ensemble.
Code 8 offers us many world building questions which go unanswered, and ultimately it is laser focused on one mission. Connor’s main goal is to ensure the survival of his mother, and if it means putting the life of a healer named Nia (Kyla Kane) in danger, so be it. On the flip side, Garrett doesn’t fall into the one-sided villain category, as he treats Connor as a little brother to guide and subtly manipulate. A spinoff series that continues the adventures of Connor and Garrett has just been announced, so many of those Lincoln City details should be fleshed out with the series (Robbie Amell vaguely alluded to that project during our interview, which I will post tomorrow).
Even with the planned series, Code 8 also succeeds as a movie on its own. The special effects and production design are absolutely on point (Toronto actually looks like a sleek city of the future), and the picture doesn’t suffer from its modest “indie” budget.
I will happily devour any Marvel or DC film any day of the week, but sometimes I want a bit of reality thrown into the mix. Although it is filled with immersive sci-fi and superhuman trappings, Code 8’s main allure is its close knit connection to humanity’s fragility. Connor is on a knife’s edge of descending into an inescapable criminal underworld, and even if he has the best of intentions, some things he can never take back.
Lincoln City may be filled with guardians, but there is nothing robotic about the performances or the story. Filled with filmmaking heart, soul, and grit, Code 8 exceeded my expectations, and I’m crossing my fingers that the series offers up that same level of uncompromising storytelling.
Rating: 4 out of 5
****Code 8 hits theaters and On Demand Friday, December 13.