Code 8 (2019)

Despite the fact that we are all supposed to be sitting on our couches watching Netflix, the sad truth has been there has been a drought of good material coming from the streaming giant.  There is the promise of upcoming seasons of series I watch, but as per their MO they have also been cancelling shows left and right, regardless of how popular they are.  It makes one almost reluctant to invest in any new show, knowing that it will probably disappear without a resolution, something even more frustrating than it used to be since everything has a story to it these days.

One of the shows that I still don't understand the cancellation on was Travelers.  Like most Canadian science fiction it was produced there, by Canadian companies, with a sort of vagueness of location in order to also appeal to U.S. audiences.  SyFy also used to be the go-to for many of these series, and that channel has always had a bad habit of cancelling fan favorites; I'm surprised Killjoys actually got a proper final season, especially since Dark Matter did not.  Travelers at least got a decent ending, even if it was by mistake.  The point is, I have been missing my Canadian sci-fi fix, as they tend to do so much right with so little.

Code 8 evolved from a 10-minute short film by director Jeff Chan, and evolved into a crowdfunded feature-length movie.  Unlike a lot of stories that begin like this, it ends with a movie being made, tons of merchandise and special perks being distributed to the contributors, a limited theatrical release and streaming on what is still the top platform.  It's an unironic success story, at least at this point not devolving into a lot of finger-pointing and lawsuits.  Also, because of other circumstances, it became something to watch early on during quarantine. 

Connor Reed (Robbie Amell) is a "power abled" person living in Lincoln City, a sprawling North American metropolis that was largely built by people with special powers.  As the world became mechanized, they found themselves no longer needed and facing mass unemployment while non-powered individuals took the more desirable jobs.  Naturally, this created a criminal element, which Connor's mother Mary (Kari Matchett) has tried hard to keep her son from getting involved with.  Unfortunately, due to progressing cancer, Mary herself is losing control of her abilities, and Connor needs to find a way to help her.

This comes in the form of Garrett (Stephen Amell), an employee of the drug kingpin Marcus Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk).  Marcus is desperate, owing money to crime bosses higher than him, and Connor and Garrett come up with a job that might just save Marcus's organization as well as provide Connor a way to help his mother.  As always, things don't go as simply as they would expect.

Like most of my favorite Canadian science fiction shows, this looks a lot more expensive than it was.  They did the smart thing this time around by not trying to make the location Seattle or New York, but just coming up with a generic city that any location (in this case, Toronto) can fill in, with a major downtown area, suburbs, skid row and docks.  I don't know if the similarity to the name Liberty City in  the Grand Theft Auto games was intentional (both police departments are the LCPD), but if it does they don't take it much further than that.  The robotic police (known as Guardians) are well-done, and an entire city under drone surveillance seems a little too close to becoming a reality. 

For the large part things play out in an entertaining way.  At first it does seem a bit cliched - we have seen similar plots to this in a number of movies and television shows.  However, this time around it does feel a bit more grounded in reality.  We don't have magical abilities that seem to change as the plot is needed, but rather specific things that people can do - psychokinesis, manipulating electricity or fire, reading minds, healing - that affect them in different ways.  It is also refreshing that Connor is not some sort of combo of different things, nor is he some sort of messianic leader - he's just an ordinary person with electrical abilities, and not even off of some scale.  He's strong, but most of the strength comes from focusing the power, rather than being special.  He's just as vulnerable as anyone else.  In fact, the most invulnerable person is one of Marcus's henchmen, and even he has logical vulnerabilities.  

The problem is, though, is that it feels way too much like what I have been craving: a Canadian science fiction television show.  It doesn't even seem like a movie that would be direct-to-streaming, but rather like it should be the pilot of a television show.  The ending, while not being as predictable as one may think going into it from the beginning, also leaves quite a lot hanging that would make a transition into a series more than it easily sets up a sequel.  While it does have some moments of tension, it often does not feel like something that should make it to the big screen, particularly because of certain plot threads that go nowhere during the run time, but seem set up to be explored.  For instance, one of the main policemen trying to control the flood of drugs in Lincoln City is Detective Park (Sung Kang), who has a powered daughter and seems to have some qualms about how his department handles people like her.  Trouble is, after introducing her, it doesn't go any further. 

I am also glad they didn't do the usual messiah thing with Connor for another reason - he's not that interesting.  At the end he becomes a bit more so, when we see him teetering on a moral dilemma, but largely he's singularly focused and doesn't change much.  It feels like the way the character was written more than the way Robbie Amell plays him, but by the end it is still obvious that Amell's cousin Stephen is the better actor, just as Garrett is the more interesting character.  In fact, if they did move this on to being a show, Garrett would most likely be the breakout character, and might even be the better one to focus on.  There is room for growth and some hidden dimensions that are hinted at.  I was also upset when I thought we were being set up for some sort of unsteady alliance between Park and Connor that never materialized, but between Park and Garrett down the line would be even more interesting. 

Code 8 is an entertaining film, but just don't expect to be blown away.  It does try some new things, and I like the world that was set up, but I feel there was so much more that we could have been shown and a lot that is happening that was teased but never fulfilled.  I would like to see if Chan and cowriter Chris Pare have some ideas on how to continue, but what they have in mind may need a lot more than another quick movie.

Code 8 (2019)
Time: 98 minutes
Starring: Robbie Amell, Stephen Amell, Kari Matchett, Sung Kang
Director: Jeff Chan


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