by Mark Laherty
So, here’s an all-female spin-off of the modern Ocean’s trilogy of heist movies, itself based on Ocean’s 11 from 1960. You’d expect this to be the target of a lot of internet ire from the usual suspects. No doubt that somebody somewhere is throwing a strop. But, a quick flick through social media will reveal almost exclusively enthusiastic responses from the public.
For those who don’t know, the Ocean’s franchise has always been based around a rotating cast of entertaining criminals who spend the movie planning and carrying out a ludicrously complicated heist. This time, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) assembles a team of old friends and misfits to steal a $150 million diamond necklace from the Met Gala. The ensemble comedy premise is so wide open to this kind of AU-style spin-off that it’s surprising we didn’t get an all-female version years ago.
The main thing to be said about Ocean’s 8 is that it’s a remarkably chill movie. Nobody expects a comedy to be a nail-biter but the stars of this comedy truly coast through every challenge that comes their way. There’s rarely a direct threat to their operation that isn’t solved within five minutes. A big practical reason for this is the hacker character. Cons that would have taken much longer in the previous movies can now, with the technology of the 2010s, be dealt with in a few hours on a laptop. More to the point, they must be dealt with that way since that’s how criminals function nowadays.
So, what do you do? Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) decides to throw caution to the wind and just make a movie with little tension. Some critics have given 8 a lukewarm reception, describing its plot as by-the-numbers. Alonso Duralde of TheWrap praises the movie on several aspects but says it “never quite kicks into high gear.” Variety’s Owen Gleiberman describes it as a “casually winning heist movie, no more and no less.”
I would put forward that the movie’s relatively laid-back tone is no accident. The presence of a nigh-unstoppable hacker is conspicuous but if Ross wanted to wrangle out some meaty inter-character drama, he could have done so easily. There are even a few beats where it feels like Ocean is being too reckless and petty and the movie is going to punish her for that. Then, it just never does. In honesty, the lack of payoff there feels wrong. But, it does highlight that if Ross wanted to make things go wrong for the characters or give them a darkest hour worth biting your nails about, he would have just gone and done that. Sarah Paulson is even introduced as a retired criminal trying to separate her family from her old life so they definitely could have done something there.
What we’re left with instead is a deliberate cruise of a movie where an ensemble of stars are entertaining for 110 minutes. A story usually carries itself by some sense of ‘will the heroes succeed?’ and there’s enough of that here from scene to scene to keep the wheels moving. But, much like watching the real Met Gala, the joy comes from watching everyone on screen strut their stuff. Obviously, that may not appeal to everyone. This movie goes up or down depending on how much you enjoy watching cool people do cool things and say jokes. Essentially, it’s a story where the plot itself is only part of the texture and the real point is to spend time with the characters, like in Deadpool or The Big Lebowski.
All of this comes back to the more obvious point to be made: all these actors are great. Sandra Bullock is ice-cool. Cate Blanchett gives the kind of wicked performance that made her such a hit in Thor: Ragnarok. Anne Hathaway, amazingly, seems to be playing a literal parody of herself. The phrase ‘couldn’t imagine anyone else in the part’ is thrown around a lot, but it feels like they may have secured her contract first and written the character for her. There are a few instances of actors being cast in the opposite of their usual type; the hacker I keep mentioning is an anti-social oddball played by Rihanna of all people.
All of this is accompanied by a bevy of glitzy cameos from celebrities and fashion icons who I can only assume someone else noticed before the credits rolled. Honourable mention should go to Daniel Pemberton’s highly entertaining soundtrack. All in all, this isn’t a story with themes or any moral argument because it just wants to be a fun night out. For its function, it comes recommended.
Mark Laherty writes about media and politics on his WordPress blog. You can also support him on Patreon.