I have two basic theories about how Gary Ross came to be the director of Ocean’s 8. One scenario involves Steven Soderbergh (who produced this spinoff of his own early 2000s series) figuring, well, Ross did a good enough job with Pleasantville and is at least bankable from a studio standpoint, having directed the first Hunger Games. The other possibility makes more sense and plays into what little I know of Soderbergh’s nihilistic sense of humor. Maybe they just needed someone — anyone — to get behind the wheel on this thing, Soderbergh himself was still pretending to be retired, and so Ross seemed like a good choice if for no other reason than he probably comes relatively cheap and he’s never made a truly terrible movie (most of them are ridiculous and forgettable at worst, just there at best). So, sure. Why not? Get Ross on the phone.
Turns out you get what you pay for. While it’s never really fair to compare a remake to its predecessor (in this case itself a remake), the biggest selling point by way of explaining Ocean’s 8 is that you want to see Ocean’s 11 again. So they’re courting that comparison to begin with.
It’s to the film’s credit that it never has to rise above being a flimsy and fun summer popcorn movie. The inverse here, inevitably and unfortunately, is that it’s clear with every wacky transition shot and overexplanation during the planning of the main attraction heist itself that the filmmakers do seem to be under the deluded impression that there was some obligation to produce more than just mindless entertainment. So when the film falls flat on its face time and again, it’s exactly as disappointing as it is disconcerting.
Heist movies live and die by how well they can communicate to the audience exactly what is supposed to happen and when, so we can have that thrill of being in the room when the light bulbs go off over the master criminal’s heads and we can barrel along as all the pieces fall perfectly into place. Establish stakes so that when any hiccups arise, we can get that fun little palpitation and try to second-guess how the movie will get our characters out of a sticky situation. Ocean’s 8 doesn’t care about any of that. We simply putter along, and when anything goes wrong, there’s zero tension to go with it. It almost reminds me of the extended time travel riffing that closes out Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, with the good guys having a backup plan for literally anything that might trip them up even in the slightest. Only here, we’re not supposed to notice how goofy that is.
Ocean’s 8 also does itself no favors by tying itself explicitly to the Clooney era. Having these films all exist in the same universe only brings a huge downer to the whole experience, since that connection is macabre in the extreme, despite the winking nods made at that plot point’s own expense.
Anne Hathaway, for what it’s worth, is the best part of the movie. Maybe they can keep following the formula and just have her play herself in Ocean’s 9.