It's become a Filmic Forays 2018 mission statement to monitor how proportionately (and interestingly) women are represented in modern cinema, something sparked by my Women and Hollywood post. So a comedy heist thriller with all-female leads - good news. That said, taking a male-led franchise and gender-swapping it hasn't proved the wisest way to go about affecting change in a fundamentally blokey industry. 2016's Ghostbusters reboot was not a good advert for the strategy. I approached Ocean's 8 skeptical, but happy to be convinced. And - at least in part - I was.
Sandra Bullock is the Ocean of the title, sister Debbie of George Clooney's Danny from the earlier films. She's been serving prison time for reasons at first unspecified, and on release has no intention of behaving herself. Soon she's working minor scams and hooking up with old partner-in-crime Lou (the always welcome Cate Blanchett) to pull off something a bit more ostentatious - a crime that's been brewing during all those hours and days in lock-up. A perfect crime of course, but one that will require help of a very specific kind - the fence, the forger, the IT whizz, etc. Hence the assemblage of said '8' - enter the likes of Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling and Rihanna.
It's a movie that benefits from a number of canny choices, starting with the use of its talented core ensemble. As with the other Ocean's chapters this is all about the heist, personal subplots be damned (aside from one, which is duly incorporated into the crime plot to crowd-pleasing effect). The girls are characterised only as much as necessary - each has her own perfectly-tailored look and idiosyncrasies - and work together with the same clockwork efficiency as the guys did. The Vegas-style glitz of the original trilogy is replaced with the classier feel of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the film's main sequence centring on its annual Gala. A more exquisitely tasteful brand of bling, if you like, one that's matched by attractive but restrained cinematography. This Ocean's instalment achieves its own visual stamp.
As for the performances, they're all on point. Bullock is at her coolest as the band's criminal master-brain, Blanchett supplying a complimentary toughness as her suited-and-booted right hand woman. Helena Bonham-Carter's patented brand of quirkiness is much lower-key than expected, rapper-turned-actress Awkwafina supplying greater quirk-factor as the light-fingered skateboarding Constance. Rihanna puts in a commendable turn as streetwise computer hacker Nine Ball, but for my money Anne Hathaway stole it. Every scene she's in as purring actress Daphne Kluger (at the plum centre of the heist) is a subtle delight.
If I have one negative, it's that the movie is too damn understated for its own good. Yes it's sharply edited and zips along aided by a nifty soundtrack, but - whether from script of performances - it could actually do with a bit more pizazz. A few more zingy one-liners and moments of clammy-palmed jeopardy, some extra adrenaline. The whole thing is beautifully crafted down to each totally styling lead - now pump a few hundred volts of additional electricity through it and we'd have us a movie that really works.
Still, it's great to see the girls working it like a team with no irritating love-interests to get in the way (proving that women can succeed in criminality just as well as men - an inspiring lesson). And unlike the Ghostbusters remake, it does enough to justify its existence in broader terms than the gender difference. With the film's US box office success, we can completely expect Ocean's 9. So more of the same please, but with the added oomph that'll make this franchise reinvention really special.
Where Are the Women?: For once it's a case of Where Are the Men? They're mostly peripheral, though Richard Armitage and (oddly) James Cordon show up in significant roles.
Ed's Verdict: 6.5/10. It looks great, it's got nice attitude, its formidable leads combine swagger with poise. Ocean's 8 is a solidly enjoyable two hours, even if it never sizzles like it truly should.