My mantra with sequels and prequels (and reboots and spinoffs and whatever) is to not compare what follows with the original, as tempting as it may be. They should, for the most part, standalone in storytelling and direction. But Ocean’s 8 at times feels like it is aching for that comparison when it knows it can’t rise to that blissful collision of ruthless efficiency and absurdist chicanery.
It is, however, still a decent film, but mostly at the hands of its prodigious and heinously underutilized cast. They took the casting premise of either Ocean’s Eleven films and did for a female spinoff: a seemingly impossible collection of charm, talent, and recognition. And at times, it works. When these actresses fully embrace the intermingling of their roles and are having fun, you can’t help but have fun, too.
The problem, then, is that the movie gets in the way of this. Mostly due to director Gary Ross’ straightforward and unremarkable handling of the film, it lacks the panache and streamlined ambition to get the viewer from one jolly to the next without any lulling commute in between. He even employs a great many of Steven Soderbergh’s trademark camera whips and needle drops onto balladic Euro jazz, but that only shines an even more unfavourable light on the endeavour.
The setup is a primary example of this uncanny resemblance. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is in jail but in the middle of an interview to establish her release, which she successfully cons and is soon out and headed to her old partner Lou (Cate Blanchett). Together, they unveil the crux of the movie: a jewelry heist of the highest order during the Met Gala.
This purposefully mimics her older brother Danny Ocean (as George Clooney played him) and his relationship with Rusty (as played by Brad Pitt) almost by the beat, but whereas Soderbergh got us all from point A to point B in a couple of snappy pans and joyfully incongruous character interactions, Ross luxuriates almost inexplicably during this. It feels like a glacial reveal for a MacGuffin when all we want is to have everyone together doing slick moves and funny quips.
Though what they do nail early on is the transliteration of the slightly homoerotic bent to the male Ocean’s movies and crank that up so much higher. This movie is brimming with an understated queer sheen and it’s damn near magical at times. Lou’s unyielding penchant for pantsuits and Tammy’s (Sarah Paulson) complete disregard for her suburban soccer mom life and Amita’s (Mindy Kaling) disdain for her family’s urgency over her life all sort of congeal into a statement of fuck the patriarchy.
It lands so happily on this point, in fact, that they say as much as for why they’re only recruiting women. And, more importantly, is an unspoken commentary for why pretty much the only man in the cast is a monstrously selfish and unlikeable pile of trash. Through the unrelenting steez of these characterizations, there is fun to be had.
Only to an extent, however. Many of these players don’t have much more to do other than exist in a specialty role and, seemingly, a Hollywood cliché. Nine Ball (Rihanna), for example, is the hacker, and for that reason and that reason alone she is dressed and acts like pure counter-culture. It’s almost as bad as NCIS. How do we know a character is good at computers? Because they’ll only be bad at interpersonal interactions, dress unusually, and have a laptop covered in edgy stickers, apparently. Come on.
Some fair better than others, though. Helena Bonham Carter goes full Helena Bonham Carter as Rose Weil and her inscrutable accent, but her character has impetus for her behavior and feelings towards a lot of what’s happening. She might, in fact, be one of the few to actually have thoughts of her own in regards to the heist. Well, her and Paulson who also does an incredible job of making sure you are aware of her motivations for doing the things she does.
Special mention should go to Anne Hathaway’s performance as Daphne Kluger, an overly curt and hollow bust of the aggregate Hollywood elite. She seems to have been channeling exactly what many people view her as, and it works so delectably well. There’s an eerie sense of self-awareness with her as she just gnaws on the scenery with gleeful abandon. Bullock and Blanchett may be the headliners but Hathaway seals the deal.
There might have been more for these actors to work with had there been more movie, too. And I don’t mean just a longer story, I mean a meatier one. It just sort of breezes along until it’s over. There’s no challenge, no noteworthy complications. It only ever presents everything as going according to plan, even when things should feel like they’re most definitely not. There’s no layers of predicaments or clashing of desires and ideals. It just dutifully marches forward.
But there are also times when the superficial success of the movie manages to be all anyone would ever need. Blanchett in a baby blue, hard-edged suit adorned with spiky punk jewelry is all anyone should need in life, in fact. It’s just unfortunate that you have to work nearly as hard as these thieves to steal some deeper joy from this movie.
Final Score: 7 out of 10