Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so the saying goes. The new movie Ocean’s 8 is not a remake, per se, of Ocean’s 11, or even Ocean’s 12 or 13, but it is easily made in the style and substance of those precursors. Unfortunately, that’s part of the problem with it. The creators of Ocean’s 8 seem to be trying so hard to mimic the tone and artistry of the Steven Soderbergh 2001 movie that it takes away from so much this movie could and should have been.
So that’s a good place to start. Ocean’s 11, the Steven Soderbergh version, is one of my all-time favorite movies. George Clooney and Brad Pitt headline a cast of misfits pulling off the heist of the century in a glamorous setting with many moving parts. It had style, humor and lots of pinache. It had two sequels, 12 and 13, which were both bad (one was MUCH worse than the other—you can figure it out), but the original (which was itself a remake) was so good, it will stand the test of time. What made Ocean’s 11 work so well was not only the actors, who were cast as much for their personalities as for their acting skills, but the director. Soderbergh was at the height of his talents in 2001, and he displayed all of his gifts in Ocean’s 11.
While I don’t want to focus on Ocean’s 11 here, it is important to mention it, because Ocean’s 8 feels so influenced and driven by its predecessor, the comparisons are impossible to ignore. And that is most definitely to the disservice of the current film. Ocean’s 8 is a movie that should and could stand on its own, but, in the shadow of its inspiration, it falls short.
All that being said, Ocean’s 8 is still a completely satisfying night in the theatre. It has a cast to die for, including Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham-Carter and Mindy Kaling. Throw in the one-named musicians-turned-actors Awkwafina and Rihanna and you’ve got 8 actresses who carry this movie with gusto. The performances are what make Ocean’s 8 so enjoyable. It’s too bad the movie couldn’t have done more to feature the variety and skills they had in their actors. Writer/director Gary Ross and co-screenwriter Olivia Milch seemed to have taken great pains to craft a plot and distinct characters, they didn’t take any time to actually have them be together. These characters are treated like tools, each with a specific separate function, instead of allowing them to interact and play with each other. Why on earth would we rather spend more time looking at the inside of a museum than with Helena Bonham-Carter and Cate Blanchett bantering with each other? This movie chooses function over form, to its detriment.
And all that would have been ok if the actual plot (caper) had been more interesting. The heist that these characters plan ends up coming off so easily and almost boringly that I found myself asking “is that it?” Everything felt lazy and neat. These characters AND these actors could have handled disaster and complications—in fact, what a great movie THAT would have been—but instead the filmmakers make a movie that’s pretty to look at with zero conflict.
But, all that being said, even I have to admit I found myself smiling almost throughout. This film still works and is satisfying because of the actors. Even though they don’t get to interact much, they each carry their part of the movie with flair and joy. Blanchett’s character is a little too much for me and Bullock is one-note, but Bonham-Carter, Rihanna, Awkwafina, Kaling, Paulson and Hathaway all shine in their moments, most notably Bonham-Carter, who flies so high above this material, you’ll wish the whole movie had been about her.
Yes, it’s nice to look at and the performances are fantasticly fun, but, in the end, Ocean’s 8 is a bland comparison to the original, a wasted opportunity that still manages to be just good enough to be worth your while.