So, the trend for Hollywood lately seems to be gender swapping films to provide more female-led fanfare to the masses. While this can be annoying there has been potential for this to work. Take “Ocean’s 8” for example a new heist comedy spinoff of the “Ocean’s” trilogy from the 2000s released eleven years to the day after the third film in the franchise in a nice little nod to the original number. This time the cast is made up of female characters, but do the story, charisma or direction live up to the original trio? Well that depends on what you’re looking for. Let’s look a little closer. This is my review of “Ocean’s 8”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Ocean’s 8” stars an ensemble cast of big name female actresses, and some new faces, who form a team to swipe a necklace from the Met Gala. Fresh out of prison Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) reconnects with her partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) to put a plan into place to steal a $150 million necklace at the Met in New York City. Their team consists of jewelry maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), profiteer Tammy (Sarah Paulson), hustler and pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), tech genius and computer cracker Nine Ball (Rihanna) and fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter). An eighth member also eventually joins the team but for the sake of avoiding spoilers I won’t say who here. Their plan involves getting the necklace off the neck of celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) using their individual skills and specialties to infiltrate the event. Meanwhile Ocean puts a plan within a plan into place to frame the man who set her up and sent her to jail in the first place.
It’s tough to take the formula of the “Ocean’s” films and make them feel fresh, but “Ocean’s 8” does a fine job of it. We might have seen this story before in some iteration, but the important part about this offering is it’s just an entertaining and maybe even more enjoyable than the sequels even if it’s not quite as good as the first movie. Seeing a female cast take on a frankly gender-appropriate heist adds a fresh coat of paint to an otherwise overdone approach and like the first movie we’re kept guessing all the way through what will work, how it will work, and what else is going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. There are some problems with the execution, but I’ll get to that later. For now it’s worth pointing out that “Ocean’s 8” never feels stale or unnecessary. It comes off as a pretty natural progression of the series and keeps your attention while modernizing the formula, for better or worse which again I’ll talk about later, with the help of capable director Gary Ross who also co-wrote the screenplay.
Part of the film’s success can be attributed to it’s charming cast. The ladies that make up the team are a whose who of established and up-and-coming actresses who all shine in their roles led by Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett who are absolutely mesmerizing and believable as a pair of old friends planning the heist. Anne Hathaway also gets her chance to shine as the target of the theft who is much more important to the overall plot than she initially appears. Everyone is given something to do and their significance in the bigger picture is well defined in their introductions which allows the viewers to invest in them without being confused as to why they are there. In some ways I actually felt this smaller group of women was more well developed and properly introduced than the men in the original movie. Sandra Bullock also matches George Clooney’s charm while also making Debbie Ocean her own character and not simply a carbon copy of Danny. I genuinely enjoyed seeing these women banter back and forth and embrace their own quirks. I’d love to see them all come together again.
I also give credit to “Ocean’s 8” for not only being intriguing and engrossing, but also very funny and amusing. Comedy is not my favorite genre, but “Ocean’s 8” is one of the better genre films of the year so far mixing the pulse pounding suspense of the heist with funny one liners and banter, subtle laughs that aren’t forced or contrived and some quirky personalities that shine brightly in a crowded picture. It’s just a fun, stylish and well put together movie that employs a decent pace and takes full advantage of the talent at hand to inject new life and energy into a concept many probably thought had little more to offer. The sleight of hand is impressive as well with a nice whammy ending that we’ve all come to expect that goes completely unnoticed until the big reveal is warranted and we even get a few cameos from the original series even if they’re not the ones we expect. That said though there were some imperfections with this movie I need to point out.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
As fun as “Ocean’s 8” is it still embraces a paint by numbers storyline. Yes, we got a fresh coat of paint with the target being a necklace in New York rather than money in Las Vegas, but in the big picture it’s the same idea as the other three movies and that did make it pretty predictable. Some of the amazement over the team’s execution and the final result is kind of watered down by the overwhelming sense of familiarity. It’s hard to believe these women would ever fail and the whole movie I kind of waited for something to go wrong. While there are a few wrenches thrown into the gears it almost seems too easy for these ladies to adjust on the fly despite how complicated their heist really is. Danny Ocean and his team had a harder time and their heists felt more complicated. While “Ocean’s 8” is fun and the mission is certainly no easy task the stakes don’t feel quite as high which doesn’t help when you’re already using a familiar formula.
Among my biggest gripes with “Ocean’s 8” is that it tries a bit too hard to be like its predecessors. Director Gary Ross does a good job presenting the story but he adds in some unneeded flair with a few pointless scenes to mimic more subtle conversations that made the first movie work so well and allowed characters to project defining traits more subtly. There’s no real context behind some of the exchanges in this film but to its credit but most of them do come around to fit into the plot in some way. But even then Ross tries a bit too hard to mimic Steven Soderburgh’s visual style as well, probably in an attempt to tie this movie to the original trilogy in some way. However, it doesn’t feel natural. It feels cut and paste with odd transitions and cinematography that doesn’t always bring out the best of the movie.
The one this that annoyed me the most about “Ocean’s 8” however is its use of technology as a crutch. I did compliment the movie on modernizing the idea for a new audience, but it takes it a bit too far in this respect. The team uses high tech gadgets like a 3D printer and spy-like glasses to help replicate the necklace they are going to steal. The addition of these elements to the plot only adds to my point that the stakes aren’t as high as in the previous movies. With that kind of technology on hand it’s no wonder these women can do what they do. What made the first three films so fun was that Ocean and his team where everyday men with specific skills had to work around the missing pieces. They were relatable because they could fill in the gaps without going overboard. Yes, they leaned on some interesting technology stuff to get by but most of it was believable and when it wasn’t, like the drill device in “Ocean’s Thirteen”, it was painfully detrimental to the overall result. In the same way, “Ocean’s 8’s” utilization of technology in the plot felt more convoluted or phoned in than effective. Honestly it seemed the writers didn’t want to take the time to concoct more crazy ways that the crew could have made something work more naturally. “Ocean’s 8” offers a lot and does add to the series in many ways, but this franchise works best when things are more stripped down and realistic. It doesn’t make the journey less fun to watch but it does take some of the suspense and wonder out of the plan.
“Ocean’s 8” may not work on every level, but it works more than it fails that’s for sure. It’s a funny, entertaining and thrilling heist comedy that brings the laughs and suspense everyone is probably looking for from a successor to one of the most popular trilogies of the 2000s. The new cast feels fresh and charming and the script isn’t even that bad. Once against it’s fun to see how everything pans out so while it’s a fresh coat of paint on a familiar formula it still works just as good as the original and maybe even better than the sequels in some ways. It has its faults that take some of the fun and drama out of the heist and make it predictable, but in the end we still get a delightful and surprisingly well done new take on a classic that has enough heart, humor and polish to get by as a harmless piece of cinema escapism.