Oceans 8: a regressive reboot
Can we just agree that reboots are a bad idea, unless they’re the Evil Dead? Taking the Oceans franchise, and running it further into the ground than Danny Ocean himself (who, apparently, was killed? Or was he? Do I care?), Gary Ross has created a by-the-numbers snoozefest. For the record, Gary Ross cannot direct: he’s a head for hire who has never made a decent film. Quite why Hathaway and Blanchett (et al.) signed on to this drivel, I don’t know, but this thing’s a disaster.
Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, imprisoned for five years over art fraud, and ready to stage a con far bigger. She puts together a team (of eight, of course) to carry out a heist on the Met Gala, planning to steal some seriously expensive diamonds. So far, so simple.
The pacing of Oceans 8 is just awful. For a start, there’s an omnipresent sense of comfort. It feels as if Bullock and co will just waltz through the heist – which they do – without encountering any issues. Where’s the drama? Where’s the tension? Does Gary Ross not understand the concept of conflict? The movie goes nowhere for a long time; and, post-heist, continues to go nowhere for a long time. The setup, because it contains no conflict or tension, is just a dull hour of exposition. The heist itself proves to be quite fun (as usual), but it lacks the kinetic energy of, say, Oceans Eleven. But then we get the James-Corden-as-Detective schtick that seems to go on forever, and ever, and ever. It’s all relentlessly dull, making an already long film feel like a three-hour one.
The Oceans movies have always been known for their sense of style, but Oceans 8 contains little. The Met Gala itself looks cheap and pedestrian. The cinematography is so unbelievably standard that it’s hard to even remember how anything looked in the movie post-screening. Most annoyingly, perhaps, is its constant use of transitions that resemble a 14-year-old’s Powerpoint presentation. It’s shockingly tacky for a film with this kind of budget.
And then there’s the heist, which doesn’t actually make sense. Upon walking out of the theatre, I had a few niggling doubts about one or two aspects of the film – about how police knew a host of uninvited women, known to be tied to criminal activity, were in place (and obstructing security) at an event in which a lot of jewellery was stolen; about how those women magically appeared wearing all the jewellery half way through them being at the gala; about how some of the camera trickery would be clear upon even basic inspection, and that if it wasn’t, what went on behind the scenes would still be deeply obvious to a person of moderate intelligence. Since then, I’ve had time to think some more – and also google some more – and found flaw after flaw after flaw in the plot. The premise of Oceans 8 is that the heist took over 5 years to plan, and is unfaultable, but it wouldn’t work in a million years.
This is a reboot cynically calculated to make money off gender politics (despite its positive symbolic significance). Mindy Kaling has recently called out ‘white male film critics’ for being harsh on Oceans 8, claiming the film was made for women, and that men wouldn’t understand certain aspects of it. Yet Oceans 8 hardly offers perceptive insight into the female psyche. Ross seems to be so focused on creating strong female characters that he’s forgotten that they also need to be human. All the protagonists of Oceans 8 feel completely invincible and flawless – and, as a result, it’s hard to emotionally engage with them. Ross has taken a group of phenomenal actors and given them roles that are mere shells of people – caricatures of personality. Ironically, the movie has sexist undertones: Debbie goes straight from prison to the make-up counter, and the film focuses on jewellery and dresses fetishistically (sometimes to the delight of the characters but mostly aimed to please the audience). These choices feel awfully regressive for a film aimed at challenging stereotypes.