There’s an exposition dump at the start of Code 8, a new sci-fi thriller currently trending on Netflix, that made me suspicious. It’s a smattering of blurry CCTV clips and talking head newscasters, mixed with headlines and soundbites that explains the state of the nation as the film begins. It’s a society of every day Joe’s with super powers, and a police enforcement squad that keeps them under control and arrests them for working without permits.
Drones patrol the skies, dropping armed robo-cops into precarious situations that requires deadly force. Psyke Farms are raided by drug units, the drug coming from the spinal fluid of the people with the abilities, or Powers, as they are known. The Powers have electrokinetic abilities, or cryokinetic abilities among other things, and the story follows Connor Reed, a Class 5 Electric, that is employed by the villainous Garrett, a telekinetic, to pull off a bank robbery, but of course it all goes South, leading to an even bigger heist for gang lord Sutcliffe, Garrett’s evil mentor.
Code 8 is a Canadian production, that started life as a short feature, and crowd funded it’s way to raising $3.4 million. Written, directed and produced by Jeff Chan, and starring Robbie and Stephen Amell, it seems that the film has found an audience on Netflix, and there are rumours of a possible spin off series.
Dark and gritty, Code 8 takes itself very seriously. There’s lots of bad language and violence, and everything is shot in a style more suited to a TV series than a film. The limited budget probably meant that the full vision of Chan could not be realised, but in a world of super powered humans, drones and robots, it all just feels so drab. The colour palate is flat and uninspired, meaning that scenes of super powered action just looks tired. I know that the idea is probably to ground the super in the every day environments that we will recognise, but it’s just so plain. Scenes of Connor practicing his powers with floating light bulbs in another in a series of abandoned warehouses look slightly silly and devoid of any real visual flair or drama. Again, maybe that’s the point, but why make a movie about super humans, and cloak it in a fog of normality.
As the heist plot progresses, we meet the rest of the crew. They all speak mostly in clipped sound bites, and with the same delivery as each other – you could swap scripts between characters and nothing would change. A botched bank raid provides very little in the way of suspense, with more beige direction and by the end of the affair, it all just seems so uninspired. Neon lit bars and angry swearing gangsters add nothing in the way of atmosphere as the film plods through it’s second act. By the time we get to the film’s end game, you start to wonder about the relevance of the super powers. They are very rarely seen on screen, and when they do manifest, it’s just so underwhelming.
I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better film in there, with normal bad guys trying to pull the crime of the century off against a robotic and trigger happy futuristic police force. Cliched dialogue and one note performances don’t do much to elevate Code 8. Characters are never fully fleshed out and, there’s really no development for anyone. Even the ambient soundtrack seems to be bored with itself most of the time.
Deconstructing the super hero genre can work, look at The Boys, but Code 8 adds very little commentary on the scene, falling instead into an overly dramatic, violent trope ridden production, that fails to excite on any level.