Supposedly I’m into movies and supposedly I’m able to keep my geek emphasis on life and pop culture in check. That’s how I like to present myself, anyway. But recent evidence seems to be confronting those assumptions. I watch Ant-Man and the Wasp and I find I have a breezy 800+ words flowing from my fingertips, but a similarly-timed viewing of Ocean’s 8 only invites comparisons to the Star Wars saga. What’s up with that?
Anyway, Ocean’s 8 follows the recent trend of producing “gender-flipped” versions of popular films, where a movie is more-or-less remade but with the characters genders reversed. Of course, what this really means is that all the male heroes of the original are re-presented as female. I don’t fault the strategy–certainly this movie is going to do better if it can trade on the latent popularity of “original” Ocean movies than if it had just presented itself as a wholly original work about clever woman performing daring thefts of valuable goods. I also don’t fault the sense that Hollywood and mainstream popular culture can stand to have more female and minority representation in leading roles. My response to all that is that as long as you can produce something of decent quality, then fine, go for your life.
Here, by the way, we get the first comparison to Star Wars, since the most modern Star Wars has been “accused” (a lamentable but arguably accurate term) of doing the same thing, simply by putting some women and some non-white people in leading roles.
In the particular case of Ocean’s 8, we get a story about criminal named who upon being paroled from prison promptly connects up with a fellow scam artist to recruit a team of experts to work together to pull off a seemingly impossible heist all with the secret motive of getting revenge upon someone they feel wronged by. The main colleague threatens to pull out of the plan when the personal motivation is discovered, but the protests are empty because in the end everyone happily goes ahead with things and in spite of some token difficulties, it all works out.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same plot as the original Ocean’s 11 (which was itself a remake a movie I haven’t seen), and herein we get the second Star Wars comparison: the modern day Star Wars franchise kicked off with 2015’s The Force Awakens, which was nearly a beat-for-beat remake of the first movie from 1977. Still, in spite of the familiar patterns which threatens to make the movie’s existence seem pointless, Force Awakens was able to tell its stories with flair and style which (in my opinion, obviously) made up for its shortcomings.
And Ocean’s 8 is similar. Like Star Wars, many of us are ultimately not there for the story but for the spectacle. We want to see zippy editing, snappy dialogue, and clever scams being pulled off with boldness and panache, and director Gary Ross (who actually has a pretty good resume, having directed The Hunger Games, Seabiscuit, and Pleasantville) does not disappoint. He does his best Steven Soderbergh impersonation and fills the movie with a bucketload of quirky angles and purposely intrusive visual transitions, but also good looking actors playing memorable characters running around in a breezy plot, all set to funky music.
This actually brings up a third comparison to Star Wars, which is that these two franchises are both doing their level best to brings screen-wipes back into style as part of film’s visual vocabulary.
Also like Ocean’s 11, the movie relies on a ridiculous amount of luck and things generally right for the “heroes.” In Ocean’s 8, these heroes are led by Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the sister of the original Danny Ocean, who is planning on stealing invaluable diamonds off the neck of a mega-famous super-model (Anne Hathaway) in the middle of a crowded event under the watchful eye of diligent security officers. Various obstacles and challenges are manufactured, but all dispatched with barely a blink. For example, an unexpected security measure with the targeted necklace threatens to shut down everything, but it’s no big deal because one of the main characters has a teen-aged sister who knows all about magnets, and can diagnose the problem thanks to shaky cell phone footage. Later on, two separate adversaries basically figure out what’s going on, but that’s okay because one of them just wants in on the crime (and thus Anne Hathaway gets to do more than just play a victim) and the other (an insurance investigator played by James Corden) just doesn’t seem to care.
So…it doesn’t really make sense. But if you don’t really care about that, if you are mainly there to see Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway and Rihanna be tough and awesome, outwitting everyone and looking great doing it, than you’re going to have a great time. That’s the target this movie is aiming for, and that’s the target it hits.
Oh, and one other connection to Star Wars? Confusing numbering. This movie is Ocean’s 8, which takes place after Ocean’s 13. And no doubt, if it does well, it’ll be the beginning of a new trilogy and will be followed up by Ocean’s 9 and Ocean’s 10. Indeed, in my mind, this is clearly why “8” was chosen, as well as the fact that it sounds catchy. After that, I predict there will be a gap of about 7 years, and we’ll get a movie just called Oceans, which will be an origin story about young Danny & Debbie Ocean pulling off their first scams, featuring new actors. Either that, or it will turn into streaming TV series and be a full reboot.