This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Gary Ross
On paper, OCEAN’S 8 did everything it could to avoid the backlash that plagued the female-oriented reboots of modern memory. It promised to exist in the same universe as the original, thereby avoiding fanboy cries of destroyed nostalgia—cries that would already be few and far between given how recently the previous films were released. It had the original director, Steven Soderbergh, on as a producer. It offered a direct continuity to the original films, with a protagonist that was siblings with George Clooney’s titular character, and thus leaving itself open to cameos from the previous trilogy. Finally, it offered up a bulletproof cast (anchored by Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett), a fun location (New York City), and a genuinely intriguing heist (the Met Gala), all of which meaningfully separated it from the original.
Despite all that OCEAN’S 8 had going for it, director Gary Ross still found a way to, and cover your ears kids, fuck it all up. Despite a framework that seemed bulletproof, Ross’ miscalculation of what makes Soderberg’s initial trilogy so special, as well as some stunningly bad pacing, leaves the franchise’s newest installment hopelessly tiring. Best known for the understated 2003 awards fodder, SEABISCUIT, and for the initial Hunger Games outing, Ross managed to make a theoretically surefire formula and a set of pieces that should have guaranteed summer fun boring.
When James Corden upstages Cate Blanchett, you can’t blame anyone but yourself, Gary
Our film starts out familiarly enough: Debbie Ocean (Bullock) leaves prison on parole, swearing she’s learned her lesson for past deeds, ready to be a contributing member of society. Of course, it doesn’t take long to see her swindle new outfits and a free hotel room, and eventually she and Lou (Blanchett) are off to build a team ready to steal priceless diamonds at the Met Gala from actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway).
Right off the bat the film has pacing issues. For Ross, Soderberg’s original franchise was a crime caper anchored by a collection of zooms and scene transitions, nothing more than an aesthetic that could be easily replicated. Getting us to the moment when Ocean wants to build a team to steal the diamonds is breezy enough, but the building of the actual team is lengthy and decidedly un-fun. What’s more, it doesn’t really establish why the characters are interested in this heist in the first place (or in one surreal instance, a character tagging along because she doesn’t have female friends—as though potentially going to prison for life is better than, I don’t know, literally anything else). There’s no rush watching the setup, and without any true foibles or missteps tripping up the plan, the events leading up to the actual execution feels flat. Without having to claw their way out of situations, the low stakes of the movie regresses to a watchable but obvious series of checkboxes.
This experience is frequently tedious because Ross’ script hardly allows for any of the fun, jive conman speak of the originals, fumbling the cast’s inherent intangibles. Beyond the facade of an Ocean’s film lay characters whose unorthodox grouping fostered natural comedy. When chemistry is developed in OCEAN’S 8, it’s done so by the talented cast who all carry with them varying degrees of natural magnetism, but Ross’ script rarely provides story beats to help push it along. Soderberg’s originals were snappy and quickly paced, oftentimes featuring minor reactions to problems encountered along the way before providing longer examinations of how to fix those problems—world-class performers getting to cleverly talk around issues with a universal language we the audience are only supposed to somewhat understand. Seeing Brad Pitt act opposite Bernie Mac or Scott Caan helped establish not only laughs, but also the way that con artists talk to each other.
My confused face when watching most of OCEAN’S 8
The language of Ross’ script never lands, and those fun back-and-forths are in short supply. We see a brief moment of this working, when Amita (Mindy Kaling) and Rose (Helena Bonham Carter) are tasked with getting a working scan of the diamonds, and Kaling in particular demonstrates great comedic timing around Carter’s awkwardness. But the scene itself is poorly paced, a dragged-out mission to get the diamonds above ground where they can get a signal; it lasts for too long and loses interest in playing up the pairing. There are plenty of brief moments between Bullock and Blanchett doing their best friends-for-life shtick, and both seem to understand their roles within the film well, but their dialogue is rarely funny and mostly carried by their own understanding of the franchise. Beyond that, the collision between these characters’ personalities is muted and colorless when it’s anything more than passing quips.
It’s not all a loss. Somehow, James Corden emerges as the film’s MVP, a frustrated but fascinated insurance fraud investigator who has a history with the Ocean family. And there are moments of the actual heist that are actually fun—Awkwafina’s pick-pocketing, wide-eyed youthfulness is charming when put under pressure, and Sarah Paulson as Tammy, the suburbs-banished soccer mom looking for a rush, is surprisingly great as the gala’s party planner. But generally, OCEAN’S 8 fails both at being a fun summer heist film and, on a larger level, as a film worthy of the franchise Soderberg developed.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend