Capitalism has a lot to answer for, not least the seemingly endless exploitation of anything deemed enjoyable by the general public. This is combined with presenting as heroes those who are willing to do “whatever it takes” to acquire one of the two things movie executives have decided we all desperately want: sex or money. The result is a never-ending stream of sequels, remakes, reboots, prequels, add-ons, expansions, and cinematic universes. Honestly, it’s exhausting. Whatever happened to good storytelling for the sake of telling a good story? Recycling what works is dull, yet here we are. From a suave remake of a Rat Pack comedy which swapped blundering for finesse, through a silly sequel involving a challenge of thieves and some celebrity cameos, to a scenery-chomping finale that returned to the original’s initial idea, we have arrived at an all-new version of the same story: a large group of people are going to steal something and will do so with as much style and sarcasm as possible.
Initially suggested to be a gender-swapping reboot of the Ocean’s film series, Ocean’s Eight is in effect a direct sequel. A few characters from the previous three films show up, including an all-too-brief cameo from Elliot Gould in the most extravagant coat he has ever worn. The lead roles, however, are entirely new characters.
The opening of the film is almost directly taken from Ocean’s Eleven, though with Sandra Bullock playing the about-to-be-released convict being interviewed by an off-camera probation panel. She is Debbie Ocean, sister to Danny Ocean who was played with charm by George Clooney in the previous three films. She holds her own here and is suitably charming herself. The deviation comes the moment she leaves, as rather than being picked up by her friend she is instead left to fend for herself. A few short cons later and she has set herself up nicely for the night. It’s a strong opening with both a homage to Eleven and a sequence establishing the film’s own identity. Unfortunately, things go downhill from there.
Bullock’s partner in crime is played by a miscast Cate Blanchett. Normally Blanchett steals the show, and is known for delivering outrageous and incredible performances, but here she is muted and lost in the bustle. It’s not entirely her fault, though, as the character is flat and poorly-written. She is taking the spot of Brad Pitt’s character in Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen, but unlike his cocky fixer she merely exists here to be a kind of muted conscience to Bullock’s gung-ho criminal. The script lets her down a lot, but then her agent has as well, as this is a role she likely should have turned down without a script rewrite. She and Bullock set about setting up a heist through a montage of set-pieces that set up the overarching plot and set in motion the inevitable twist reveal that is set to surprise us but we all know is coming.
The titles of the Ocean’s films allude to the number of criminals needed to undertake whatever heists are being carried out. Here, Bullock says she needs seven people for the heist, but the Eight of the film’s name means one more will later join, and the marquee names fairly obviously complete the list: Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Awkwafina, Sarah Paulson, and Anne Hathaway. The cast also features Richard Armitage in an underwritten role, Dakota Fanning in an underwritten role, and James Corden in an underwritten, incredibly irritating, unbelievably convenient, and unashamedly unnecessary role.
There has been a change behind the scenes from the previous three Ocean’s films. Steven Soderberg, who directed Eleven (and its sequels, to lesser effect) with a glamorous retro-chic style that overflowed with cool, is replaced by Gary Ross. The film is shot similarly to the others, with long zooms and quirky sixties-style angles from time to time, but other than those moments of interest it is a relatively pedestrian affair. The tension elicited from the script and situations is also low-stakes. This feels, for lack of a better word, safe. There are more celebrity cameos than ever before, a big-profit heist, high-profile appearances from super-glam companies like Cartier and Vogue, and a team of confident actors taking their shot at a life-changing score, but it’s very run-of-the-mill. That’s not necessarily out-of-character for the Ocean’s films, as Twelve and Thirteen both had a similar lack of tension, but the difference there was well-written characters who felt real and engaged in almost constant playful banter. Here there is very little to chuckle at, not a huge amount of charm on display—Bullock aside—and no real pizzazz. It’s a little disappointing.
The idea of a criminal family, with both brother and sister engaging in record-breaking crimes, is a good one. Everything about the plot draws the audience in and pulls them through, but everyone is sat back. It’s too comfortable. A good heist should have me on the edge of my seat; it’s not about whether they pull it off, but how, and here I found it mostly predictable. Much like the idea of switching a priceless diamond necklace for a zirconia impersonation, Ocean’s Eight feels like a knock-off. It’s entertaining, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just not good enough.