Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy was, briefly, the hottest property in Hollywood. The star-studded cast of his 2001 Rat Pack remake delivered a film that was flawlessly confident, engaging and, above all, fun.
It was as pure a two hours of joy as cinema could deliver, but Soderbergh went somewhat off-piste with the two sequels, including a particularly low moment where Julia Roberts’ character Tess pretends to be Julia Roberts in order to get access to a Fabergé egg. It is no particular surprise therefore that Ocean’s 8 is something of a hard reset on the franchise and a return, as best it can, to the low-stakes whimsy of the first movie.
Ocean’s 8 picks up with Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean (sister of Clooney’s, supposedly deceased, Danny) at a parole hearing. She hustles her way to freedom and immediately sets to work on a jewellery heist that involves snatching $150m worth of Cartier diamonds from an A-lister’s neck. That neck is played by Anne Hathaway – Our Greatest Movie Star™ – and the rest of the glittering cast includes Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling and Peter Rabbit himself, James Corden. The wattage of that line-up is matched by the density of celebrity cameos at the Met Ball – the scene of the crime – to give the film the appearance of existing in a world in which we normal folk have been cleansed from the planet.
Clooney’s performances in the earlier trilogy are a rough guide for Bullock as she builds smooth-talking Debbie, and amongst the supporting roles it’s clear that quirkiness, rather than character development, was the order of the day. Blanchett’s Lou – the Brad Pitt role, essentially, though it’s Debbie who’s always eating – is the most undercooked of the gang, and feels like a waste of one of the great actors of our lifetimes. But Hathaway particularly is a charming presence in the film, whilst Bonham Carter looks unshackled from the burden of unbearably kooky gothic film sets. And even James Corden, whose over-saturation has reached the point of deep irritation, is tolerable as the insurance investigator assigned after the heist, though the film makes a juddering tonal gear-change when he appears on-screen. It’s all the sort of chummy fun that reminds you how much better your life would be if you were rich and beautiful.
It is, however, by no means flawless. The heist is over signposted and, at times, deeply improbable (though that’s a pointless critique of an Ocean’s film). The writing, meanwhile, leans into its woke credentials without ever expressing more than the shallowest of interest in them. At its heart this in a film that is heavily indebted to its franchise forebears and ends up somewhat constrained by that format. There is zero peril, zero risk associated with the plan, zero opportunity for characters to transcend the role assigned to them by their skill set. It is, in a way, all cover and no book. But what do you expect from an Ocean’s film? And, more pertinently, what do you want?