Ocean’s Wait: Female franchise still needs to find its footing

Graphic by Julia Enright

Similarities between the Ocean siblings are abundant. Both are devastatingly good-looking ‒ Danny played by George Clooney and Debbie by Sandra Bullock ‒ have a sharp sense of style, and possess the intelligence to pull off a heist worth $150 million.

The opening scenes of both Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s 8 each present one of the siblings lying through their teeth as they’re interviewed for parole. Released from prison in a outfit appropriate for a black-tie event, their craving for larceny proves to have only intensified during their time away. As Danny returns to his partner in crime, Rusty (Brad Pitt), Debbie reunites with Lou (Cate Blanchett), her British accomplice.

As the subsequent heist plan unfolds and a team of adept criminals is assembled, the Ocean’s films serve as a revival of the heist genre adored during the mid-twentieth century. At first glance, Ocean’s 8 appears to offer an overwhelming flavour of femininity: eight women infiltrate New York’s most exclusive and glamourous party, The Met Gala, to steal a gaudy piece of jewelry worth millions. A washed-down heist film that won`t bore women in the audience. But as the film develops, we learn that these thieves are hardened criminals who take advantage of their apparent docility and delicacy to maintain their  dark horse status for their victims. When presented with the opportunity to hire a male team member, Debbie rejects the suggestion, explaining, “A Him gets noticed, a Her gets ignored. And for once, we’d like to be ignored.”

Ocean’s 8 struggles to find solid ground as it leaps from character to character, failing to complete the development of one scene before bounding onto the next. Both movies boast a cast of Hollywood’s finest, but only the predecessor succeeds in taking advantage of its talented assets. Actresses Awkwafina, Mindy Kaling, and Rihanna are all limited in their screen time, robbing the audience from witnessing their full potentials. Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway as a Hollywood starlet is gifted with a substantial amount of focus. With a persona consumed by her reputation, the cringe-worthy character leaves the audience annoyed with her presence from her first line of dialogue during a press conference scene. Elliott Gould and Qin Shaobo both make brief yet memorable appearances in the 2018 reboot as a nod to the antecedent movies, yet the late Danny Ocean is merely mentioned throughout the plot, save for a framed picture of George Clooney in Debbie’s room.

Despite taking radically different approaches, both Ocean siblings lack the ability to move on from an ex. While Danny`s underlying motif for his casino heist is winning back his ex-wife (Julia Roberts), Debbie hopes to accomplish revenge on Claude (Richard Armitage), the man who sent her to prison to save his own skin. The hidden agendas, contended by both Rusty and Lou respectively, are a tiring distraction from the heist and serve to exhibit the inescapable selfishness of a narcissistic criminal.

Both movies boast a cast of Hollywood’s finest, but only the predecessor succeeds in taking advantage of its talented assets

While James Corden’s carpool segments are immensely entertaining, his presence as Debbie`s confidant in the latter end of the film is unnecessary. Running at just under two hours, Ocean’s 8 could’ve easily cut the entirety of Corden’s performance, as the gratuitous insurance subplot is (surprisingly) one of the most implausible aspects of the film.

The paradoxical result of this new female-reboot trend shows that, yes, women can make excellent movies just like men, but that doesn’t make them immune to also making terrible movies just like men. A film doesn’t deserve praise simply for parading an all-women cast or a strong female lead. While movies with female-focus are great for representation and for dismantling stereotypes, these movies can still be criticised for reasons beyond the prominent gender of the characters.

The directorial style of Gary Ross pales in comparison to director of the earlier Ocean’s trilogy, Steven Soderbergh. Ross’ erratic attempts to subtly recreate Soderbergh’s skillful transitions and sundry shots only draws more attention to the differences between the directors. Ocean’s 8 was clearly shot to be a box office giant, while Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films had a more effortless feel to their visual adroitness.

Over the past few years, we’ve been privy to the mass hysteria arising from predominantly-male audiences when traditionally-patriarchal movies are stolen by irate females and twisted into a reboot that disrespects the obviously superior original. Leslie Jones faced public harassment for her role in 2016’s Ghostbusters, and currently, Kelly Marie Tran from Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been facing such bigoted criticisms that it’s led her to delete all of her social media accounts.

While many women who dare infringe on the sacred franchises of male-dominant science fiction are susceptible to attack from the fan base, it’s notable that both Jones and Tran possess a characteristic unlike their co-stars.While a female infiltrating one’s beloved fictional world was bad enough, a woman of colour was just too much to handle. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Kate McKinnon were far from immune to the public outcry ‒ including a flimsy outrage from the king of online trolls, Mr. Donald Trump ‒ yet it was Jones who suffered the brunt of the Ghostbuster attacks. Messages comparing Jones to Hominidae, many with  vulgarly photoshopped photographs, led director Paul Feig to succinctly state, “geek culture is home to some of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met in my life.”

This movie takes advantage of its woman-hood in (almost all) the right ways.

Whether this misguided sense of ownership will continue with Ocean’s 8 is unclear, but the overwhelming outpour of support and success in the box office suggests a change in the right direction. In its opening box office weekend, the film earned $41.6 million, and is set to surpass Solo: A Star Wars Story in upcoming weekend ticket sales.

My hope for this forceful female cast is, despite its shortcomings, a sequel. As explained by Debbie moments before their heist commences, the team isn’t just doing this for the money, but also for a sense of self-determination and meaning. Rather than doing it for themselves, Debbie encourages her partners to do it for the “8-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal.” This movie takes advantage of its womanhood in almost all the right ways. The advantage of the heist film genre is that there’s always another casino, another hotel, or another Met Gala to rob, and I urge the Ocean’s team to prove that their female-empowering film can follow through as brilliantly as its marketing premise.

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