The Code 8 world is an alternate timeline/universe in which a low percentage of the population is “gifted” with superpowers and special abilities. The movie sets us up with a historical lesson about how the fictitious Lincoln City was built by these folks with powers, using their abilities for infrastructural gain. But in the passing years, those with abilities became less and less celebrated, more and more marginalized in a society that worked hard to distance themselves from anyone with extraordinary powers.
And now, Lincoln City has become something of a mini-police state bent on controlling those with powers by classifying, identifying and tracking them so they don’t get out of hand. It’s a fascinating concept from Code 8‘s Canadian writer and director Jeff Chan, and one that he handles pretty deftly.
The last twenty or so years have given us an almost non-stop, steady stream of super-power movies. Most involve the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes with the mining of seemingly every comic book character to ever hit the illustrated pages. But there have been some other unique takes on superpowers and abilities over the years as well. Josh Trank and Max Landis gave us one of those films with Chronicle in which a trio of teens stumble upon an *origin* story of their own; gifted powers that keep leveling up to disastrous results.
2016’s Sleight also pulled off something similar with a story about a street magician whose tricks actually do stem from real, if lower level, powers.
Code 8 is rolling much the same way, working to pull off something new in a genre that’s probably pushing up on over-saturation.
Code 8, referring to the police call for dealing with folks with powers, follows Connor Reed (Robbie Amell), who is working as an electrician because he’s an “Electric”, someone gifted with powers over heavy voltage. He’s caring for his aging mother and dealing in a world where no one wants his kind around. Financial issues, medical bills, an aging parent, a rigged economy, and employment scarcity all come to the forefront early and it’s interesting to see a situation in which extraordinary folks are dealing with the stress of the world’s societal issues even though they are gifted almost beyond comprehension.
Connor, looking to exert some of that power and take agency over his life situation, gets mixed up with some underworld characters including Garrett, who uses his telekinesis powers to work for a drug kingpin. In Code 8 Garrett is played by Stephen Amell, Robbie’s real-life cousin, who has a superhero turn as Green Arrow already under his quiver.
Though it came out in theaters at the end of 2019 to little fanfare, those living the quarantine life now have Code 8 trending as one of the hottest movies on Netflix. And though not an A+ movie, the trend is for good reason. Chan does a number of things rather well in this movie. He builds a “realistic” city world in which those with super powers are contained through some technological advances (think low-level Sentinels vs. the X-Men) and a society that’s generally turned against the group. And the story moves at a steady clip without getting too bogged down in bigger details.
It’s an easy watch that has the viewer wanting to see how the characters “get out” of their current messes while also wondering what the world has to offer. Robbie Amell’s performance is a bit stiff and some of the other characters border on the cliche though it doesn’t matter all that much for what Code 8 is trying to accomplish. It’s also pretty obvious that they were working in a smaller budget film that’s going to rely on some visual effects around the powers. This gets clunky, but the viewer can clear that hurdle without laying too much blame at the feet of the filmmaker. I very much suspect they did the most with what they had.
Code 8 is definitely worth the 90 or so minutes and there’s a chance we see much more from this world. Chan leaves things intriguingly open with a couple of different threads to pull on that could help expand the world, even grow it to something much bigger. Quibi has already announced a Code 8 spinoff series with the Amells in the leads. It’s the right direction and there’s plenty of ways to take Lincoln City’s “heroes”.
If you’re looking for a new take on superpowers that don’t involve Infinity Stones, and want a more nuanced world with totally new characters then Code 8 makes for a solid evening.