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Film Reviews: Code 8 & Code 8: Part II

Code 8

Title: Code 8

Director(s): Jeff Chan

Screenwriter(s): Chris Pare

Studio: XYZ Films, Collective Pictures, Elevation Pictures

Released: 2019

Runtime: 1h 38m

Starring: Robbie Amell, Stephen Amell, Sung Kang, Greg Bryk, Kari Matchett, Aaron Abrams

Code 8: Part II

Title: Code 8: Part II

Director(s): Jeff Chan

Screenwriter(s): Chris Pare, Jeff Chan, Sherren Lee, Jesse LaVercombe

Studio: XYZ Films, Collective Pictures

Released: 2024

Runtime: 1h 40m

Starring: Robbie Amell, Stephen Amell, Sirena Gulamgaus, Alex Mallari Jr, Aaron Abrams

My Verdict: Nothing particularly original but good pacing, production and performances. Overall, both films are still solid and enjoyable.

Code 8 is an independent-crowdfunded sci-fi action-drama based on the 2016 ten-minute short film of the same name. Set in the present but with an alternate history, it is a world where some have superhuman abilities commonly referred to as “powers”. Powered individuals must be registered to work and they were generally accepted and utilized until technological advancements such as automation put them out of their jobs. Since then, they have been ostracized.

The story follows Connor Reed (Robbie Amell), a 26-year-old “Electric” living with his sick mother (Kari Matchett) in Lincoln City. They cannot afford treatment, she working at a local supermarket and he a day-laborer (unregistered). Meanwhile, the police are attempting to deal with the drug called “Psyke” that is produced by “The Trust” using the spinal fluid of powered individuals. In the region where Connor lives, Psyke is distributed by Marcus Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk) with Garrett (Stephen Amell) working as his right-hand man. One day, Connor does a job for Garrett and, as expected, things just get worse from there.

Connor Reed (Robbie Amell) and Garrett (Stephen Amell)
Connor Reed (Robbie Amell) and Garrett (Stephen Amell)

When the premise and setting are described, it reads clichéd. There is nothing particularly original about it. The film is obviously criticizing certain contemporary issues such as class divisions and struggles and a highly militarized police force that doesn’t shy away from using its capabilities. In the film, aerial drones are the norm and the bipedal drones use lethal force by default. The narrative does not attempt any in-depth (social) commentary which is presumably intentional. As such, it comes across as shallow but it avoids being pretentious.

The visual style is subtly gritty. Both art design and cinematography are not heavily stylized. The aerial and bipedal drones look realistic. The environment is a generic-looking city in the West. The colors are rich but not overtly saturated. The lighting is perfect throughout. There is a good combination of shots, including the use of something like handheld, with seamless editing.

If anything, it could use more stylization—for example, set it five to ten years into the future with corresponding technological advancements. Perhaps this is due to budgetary limitations but setting that aside, maybe this is to avoid coming across as a Neill Blomkamp film.

Most of the characters are a little too simple and the way the plot progresses is somewhat predictable but not in a way that ruins the work. For example, most of the police are outright pigs. Unlike Detective Davis (Aaron Abrams), however, Detective Park (Sung Kang) is a reasonable cop which is refreshing. He is not the hard man who softens up in the final act in sympathy for the main character. He wants to do his job and do it right. He is reasonable and tries to be considerate, capable of thinking in degrees and Kang conveys pathos without saying much. His character tries but is resigned to the fact that he can’t do his job right.

Detective Park (Sung Kang) and Detective Davis (Aaron Abrams)
Detective Park (Sung Kang) and Detective Davis (Aaron Abrams)

Garrett is a decent attempt at a morally grey character. He works for organized crime and is an opportunist, possibly greedy but not blatantly so. He does demonstrate a sense of loyalty or at least an openness to it. Stephen Amell’s performance is good but the writing could take the character further. Generally, the performances are solid so one can overlook the character simplicities.

Music by Ryan Taubert is functional with piano block chords for intimate moments and pulsing themes on the synth for suspense. It is seemingly simple but it fits. The production, from visual effects to film editing and sound editing, is solid especially when one considers the film’s relatively low budget.

The other reason one can overlook the relative weaknesses is the tight structure and good pacing. There are arguably a few plot conveniences but the plot mostly works. It is not action-packed in the sense that there are gunfights throughout, but that there is always something happening; every scene serves a purpose and then moves on.

Guardian drones
Guardian drones


Code 8: Part II is set five years after the end of the first film. Connor is released from prison and shuns Garrett who offers help. Garrett is now running the show with the manufacture and distribution of Psyke, albeit with more decency than his predecessor Sutcliffe.

One day, one of Garrett’s men, Tarak (Sammy Azero), steals the money meant for Sgt Kingston (Alex Mallari Jr) of the police (who appears briefly in the first film). Kingston uses one of his K9s, a new quadrupedal drone that is supposed to be non-lethal, to hunt down Tarak. It kills him using Psyke to make it look like an overdose. Tarak is conveniently stupid in his lack of evasion abilities but the suspense is otherwise well done for this sequence.

Sgt Kingston (Alex Mallari Jr)
Sgt Kingston (Alex Mallari Jr)

More pertinent to the plot, Tarak’s younger sister Pavani (Sirena Gulamgaus) catches the end of it and somehow disables the K9 unit using her unique powers. As Pavani tries to hide from Kingston’s men who are now after her to tie up loose ends, Connor comes across her and they reluctantly seek help from Garrett.

Pavani (Sirena Gulamgaus)
Pavani (Sirena Gulamgaus)

Like the first film, there is nothing particularly original and the characters are still too simple. Connor understandably detests Garrett but his antagonism feels a little forced. One would think someone in Connor’s position would chill a little and play along because there aren’t that many options available to him and Pavani.

Garrett, interestingly, bears with it patiently and coolly which Stephen Amell does very well. Like the first film, we see glimpses of a more complex, morally grey character but Part II unfortunately doesn’t show much more of that side.

Sgt Kingston is the stereotypical shrewd corrupt cop whilst Detective Davis has softened up. There is reason for that but whilst it is good we don’t see that clichéd journey, it is arguably a little convenient.

Given the plot, the thematic focus is on corruption rather than just excessive force but aside from that, there is little expansion in worldbuilding. There is merely a hint regarding the wider drug operation that is presumably still under The Trust.

Visually, it has the same look, maybe a little cleaner. The design of the K9 is great, going for the Rottweiler bulkiness rather than the slim Greyhound form that is common. The visual effects are not bad. There is a little more stylization in Part II, such as the momentary slow motion in action. It is tastefully done and mostly avoids being tacky.

On balance, the relative strengths and weaknesses are the same as in the first film. The tight structure and quick pacing make it easy to overlook the described weaknesses. There are many aspects to a given creative work. It can be weak in one respect but strong in another to compensate. Both these films are proof that even though the premise and setting are ordinary, good production and performances with solid pacing enhance the work. I personally hope that the worldbuilding will expand if there is a third film.

K9 drone
K9 drone

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