Code 8 follows an Uninspiring Streaming Trend
Code 8 is an unoriginal, uninspired Neill Blomkamp-lite wannabe that, on the surface level at least, looks to explore a number of themes pertinent to today’s society.
For those familiar with science fiction and superhero tales this film accomplishes nothing new but instead opts to tread water in familiar territory. It’s not bad, if anything, Code 8 manages to be competent yet wholly unremarkable, much like this critic’s max bench press.
An Aperitif before the Main
Prior to reviewing Code 8 I honestly had never heard of it. After sitting down and watching it I got to googling, as one does, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. In 2016 cousins Stephen (Of Arrow fame) and Robbie Amell along with all the major players involved in the creation of this feature length film released a short film, also titled, Code 8; the short is very much a teaser for the theatrical film, though it does deviate in a few ways.
The interesting part of this process though is that the Amell cousins took the challenging route of crowdfunding this project (Via Indiegogo) in order to raise money for this production as it allowed them to retain much greater creative control. As a small press comic writer myself, it’s great to see already established actors and creatives using crowdfunding platforms especially a fan favourite like Stephen Amell. That aside, lets get into the main course!
In an era of an abundance of streaming services Netflix, to their credit, have really tried to diversify their offerings. One area where they seem to still have a bit of a scattergun approach however, is sci-fi.
For every good release like Stranger Things there’s at least two to three real dumpster fires like Bright. Thankfully, Code 8 manages to avoid being outright crap! The premise here is that 4% of the population are born with abilities beyond that of a normal person. These powered individuals find themselves subjugated and marginalised for reasons that, sadly, just aren’t explored.
If this all sounds very familiar that’s because it is. This is basically the premise of X-Men just on a smaller scale, with a tighter budget and a focus shift from ‘superheroes’ to real-life drama. It borrows, if not outright steals, its premise from the ‘Mutant registration act’ or ‘Sokovia Accords’. It doesn’t really go into any of the bigger picture stuff though.
A Messy Smorgasbord of Themes
The small-scale story being told here centres around Robbie Amell’s character Connor Reed, who has the ability to manipulate and generate electricity. Connor has been dealt a pretty crappy hand, he’s the classic victim of circumstance; His mum is ill and he’s struggling to make ends meet working as a day labourer.
There’s a hodgepodge amalgam of ideas and themes thrown together here. Chiefly among them; immigration, racism, state oppression and access to healthcare. Unfortunately, it’s all incredibly on the nose and about as subtle as a Tommy Wiseau performance. Okay, that’s a fairly uncharitable metaphor… It’s probably not that bad but it is heavy handed which is a shame because I really enjoyed the more adult tone of this.
Though he’s verging on Momma’s boy territory at times, Robbie’s Connor is an affable enough chap and Robbie’s performance is decent enough that you’re sympathetic towards Connor’s plight though at times he’s a bit wooden.
Connor falls in with Garrett (played by cousin Stephen Amell) and his crew in order to make some quick cash. The Garrett character is much more interesting and Stephen plays the charismatic mentor role well. As the story unfolds and we learn more about the characters Code 8 manages to be somewhat refreshing in its approach and commitment to remaining small-scale in its storytelling.
It doesn’t quite Pull Together
Bigger isn’t always better, this isn’t about the end of the world and it doesn’t try to be overly pretentious in its direction or storytelling. Around the 60 minute mark we get a very foreseeable double cross that puts us on the home stretch.
It all unfolds in a fairly predictable manner but that isn’t to its detriment – being subversive isn’t always a good thing. And of course, inevitably, it leaves itself open for a sequel where hopefully we can get more of an insight into exactly why these people are being so fiercely persecuted.
I guess Code 8’s biggest strength is ultimately its greatest weakness. There’s nothing wrong with the set-up, it’s competently put together, it’s for the most part entertaining, it’s storytelling by the numbers. The production values are decent as is the soundtrack but I do think there’s untapped potential here.
Potential, if unlocked, Code 8 would have elevated itself out of ‘middle of the road’ territory into something far less vanilla and something more than just ‘blah’. This could have been much more than what it ended up being. It’s like the script was a few re-writes away from being something really fresh and great, instead they settled on this.
There’s a lot of questions here too that aren’t raised or explained. When did these people start appearing? What is intrinsically different about them? Why are these people with powers not being utilised in some way? Why aren’t they drafted? If they present such a concern to the majority of the public, why aren’t they imprisoned or just outright hunted and killed?
Why don’t the cops have psychics working for them? Did Stephen Amell grow a beard just to differentiate himself in appearance from Robbie? The world just isn’t fleshed out quite enough for my liking.
Future Mistakes the Writers need to Avoid!
Code 8’s visual style is dripping in Neill Blomkamp’s influence yet it lacks the man’s sophisticated penchant for encapsulating the themes that the writers here so desperately yearned to. Stephen and Robbie Amell and the team behind this production should be proud of their achievement with this debut feature length outing.
Should subsequent sequels fail to build on the premise sufficiently then ultimately this could very quickly lurch into the realm of throwaway Steven Segal straight to DVD calibre nonsense.