At their best, heist film can be one of the most fun and exciting genres out there. Sure, it’s bad people doing bad things usually to innocent people, but they are often done with such style and interesting characters who you can’t help but root for as they build to a single big climax. Among the earliest of those films was the 1960 Rat Pack film Ocean’s 11, a star-studded affair that was a load of fun even if it isn’t held in the highest regard in most circles these days. Instead, the name has largely become immortalized by the 2001 remake, Ocean’s Eleven, which aside from being grammatically sounder, updated the film with an arguably even more talented cast (certainly acting ability wise). George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Eddie Jemison, and Qin Shaobo made up the titular Eleven with Clooney as Danny Ocean, the mastermind of a Vegas heist and each filling a very specific role. Directed by indie darling Steven Soderbergh (fresh off his career highlight in Traffic), it leaned just as heavily into the style and cool as the original while establishing a series pattern of misdirects. Granted, I haven’t seen more than a few minutes of either in many years, but since I am weird, I was the one person who preferred the original.
Soderbergh returned for the two sequels with Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen with the former lacking any spark of the original and the latter merely being a decent sequel. Recurring supporting cast members Julia Roberts and Andy García became the titular twelfth and thirteenth, but I can’t say the films did anything to make themselves feel fresh. The death of Bernie Mac brought a permanent end to that series in an admirable bit of restraint, but the name recognition meant that it was inevitable it would continue in some form. Enter the spinoff and here we have Ocean’s 8, returning to the original naming convention and chosen presumably because a new trilogy would bring them up to Ocean’s 10. Elliott Gould is the only returning cast member, but he only shows up in one scene and as one of this film’s eight thieves. Instead, the film heads in the direction of the decent Ghostbusters remake and instead has gone with a wholly female cast. Gender swapping in films is hardly new (one of the greatest films ever made did it before any of you were born), but as a compromise between a desire for franchises/remakes and increased diversity, it is one that gained more interest from studios.
The eight are led by Sandra Bullock, taking over as a fresh out of prison Debbie Ocean (sister to Danny who also started his first movie leaving prison) out for revenge and seeking a big score she has spent years preparing. She’s joined by her partner Cate Blanchett (essentially filling Pitt’s role), Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, and Awkwafina (Future Man) as the other six. Yes, that only adds up to seven and it makes no sense why the film would be named Ocean’s 8. Their goal, a $150M Cartier necklace being worn at the Met Gala (which makes for some obnoxious name dropping and cameos, but I expected worse) which they plan to steal off the neck of a celebrity played by Anne Hathaway as the one person having far and away the most fun here. Yes, it is weird that an event so associated right now with Rihanna not only features Rihanna in it in an unrelated role, but the Rihanna equivalent is played by Anne Hathaway, I guess in an attempt to find someone as far away from her as possible. The smaller cast should theoretically allow more of a focus on each character and I can say no character really gets lost in the shuffle.
The film follows along the typical path of recruitment, planning, subjobs in preparation, and finally execution, some of those stages better than others. The film is slow to get started and lacking any sort of style, frequently stumbles in between missions. The missions themselves aren’t all that terribly inspired as too many of them boil down to lie to get into position and then use spy glasses to take pictures. There’s not enough fun to go around as the film works its way through each little task. It’s as if the whole movie has been stripped down even beyond the cast members which is not a bad thing for the start of a new series (because let’s be honest, they want this to be), but it’s still underwhelming.
Overall, Ocean’s 8 is not a bad little film, but it mostly just left me hoping that they can make Ocean’s 9 into something more inspired. They have a strong cast of characters both in terms of the actors and the roles they play who I’d like to see more of. They work well together, I’d just like to see a lot more of them playing off each other, more inventiveness in the cons and heist, more style in the shooting. Someone other than Gary Ross at the helm (the fantastic Pleasantville and much less quality wise since then including The Hunger Games). There’s a lot of potential here, but as it is now, the film is merely a pleasant summer heist film with a few moments that truly engage while the rest just rolls by smoothly if harmlessly.