2001’s Ocean’s 11 (itself a remake of a 1960 movie), introduced us to a band of unlikely brothers pulling the ultimate heist. The chemistry between the actors also made for entertaining sequels. Now, 17 years later, audiences are looking for something different, yet familiar. Cue Ocean’s 8: an all-female continuation of a male-dominated franchise.
Previously attempted by the Ghostbusters franchise — much to the horror of some fanboys — the Ocean’s franchise has a little more freedom given the fandom isn’t quite as die-hard. However, this freedom needs to translate into something exciting, not just a movie starring women that still reinforces female stereotypes. How can this installment live up to its namesake and avoid disaster?
A great deal of the success of the Ocean’s movies can be boiled down to one word: casting. With eight main characters to focus on, there’s not going to be much time for development. This means it’s up to the actors to deliver fully realized characters — not caricatures — without much help from the script. Placing the charismatic Sandra Bullock at the helm is a good start. Ditto with Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson, whose mettle has been tested in much more demanding roles.
In a possible stroke of genius (or marketing), they’ve added a couple of relative newcomers to the mix with Rihanna and Awkwafina. These two ladies are supremely talented in other areas, but they have yet to make it to the forefront of the acting arena. It’s possible their inexperience will show, making their characters one dimensional and potentially diminish the synergy of the entire cast. That choice might not be a commercial gamble, considering Rihanna’s popularity, but it is definitely an acting one. It remains to be seen whether they will be a boon or a bust in the ensemble.
The Sisterhood Factor
The ensemble is particularly important in this franchise which puts a high emphasis on camaraderie. The film shouldn’t feel like the Sandra and Cate show with a few extras tacked on. There needs to be a real feeling of sisterhood as the experience bonds the characters together while each excels and finds their role within the group.
Pairing Helena Bonham Carter with Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, and Awkwafina, does a lot for inclusivity (assuming they’re shown as actual people, not mere tokens), but what will it do for chemistry? In the trailer, we’re only treated to scenes of Ocean pulling the group together, nothing that shows how they interact. Will we see just the archetypal female relationships or will this movie give us a more realistic vision of female friendships and how they are formed? Let’s hope it’s the latter.
Love or Revenge?
Another cinematic trope Ocean’s 8 needs to stay away from is the forced love story. The franchise has done well in the past incorporating a love story into the fabric of the plot while still constructing a fun narrative, with twists and surprises. In Ocean’s 13, the love story is not romantic, it centers more on friends-as-family and revenge.
This could be an interesting route for Ocean’s 8 (revenge is mentioned in the trailer), but knowing Sandra Bullock’s rom-com track record, it’s hard to believe romance isn’t in the cards. It’d be great if that romantic storyline feels fresh and doesn’t repeat stale stereotypes involving a woman scorned.
Action/Comedy, Emphasis on Comedy
Humor keeps the pace going, lightens the mood, and connects with the audience — a particularly important task in a completely unrelatable heist movie. A big mistake would be to relegate one lady to be ‘the funny one’. It’d be easy to put Mindy Kaling in this box (the woman has serious comedy chops and background), but it’d also undermine every interaction with that character, creating a distraction rather than entertainment.
Sprinkling one-liners throughout the dialogue can be effective if done well. Something which Awkwafina is uniquely suited for, as anyone who’s watched her YouTube videos can attest (warning: NSFW). One-liners, though, are not enough to truly earn the comedy badge. This movie needs to weave humor into situations as well as providing punch-lines. That’s where the comedic payoff hits best, as it transports the viewer deeper into the world created by the movie.
Location, Location, Location
Speaking of transporting, the settings of all three previous movies have been fabulous and memorable. It seems that this tradition will continue, as the heist will take place during the Met Gala, an annual fundraising event which epitomizes the very best in avant-garde fashion. But the clothing and accessories carry much of the iconic elegance of the event, not so much the physical location. This departure could prove problematic as it opens up possibilities of formulaic dialogue that they’d do well to avoid (chicks and shoes, am I right?).
Another hallmark of the franchise has been stylized cinematography and saturated colors. These lend each movie a specific look and resonant emotional cues. From the trailer, however, that tradition seems less present. This could be the result of trailer editing: outdoor and natural daylight scenes along with many character close-ups. To carry on the visual legacy, Ocean’s 8 must carve out its own standards, otherwise, it risks looking like every other heist movie. And that’s not what the Ocean’s franchise is all about.
You might think expectations are too high for the fourth installment of an action/comedy series, and you’re probably right. But all Ocean’s 8 really needs to be is the natural progression of an entertaining franchise, with a great cast who happens to have fantastic chemistry. Is that too much to ask?