Ocean’s 8 – Film Review

‘I’ll tell you, we’ve got some feisty women that’ll fight right back,’ Sandra Bullock warned potential online trolls ahead of her all-female reboot of the Ocean’s franchise. That neither she nor any her co-stars had to raise a fist in defence of their casting feels like an unexpected, pleasingly progressive step forward after the online vitriol that dogged that other gender-swapping reboot, 2016’s Ghostbusters. While reaction to its casting breaks new ground, the film itself feels trapped in the past. Stalking too closely to the tricks and tropes of heist move lore, Ocean’s 8 is a weightless, undemanding caper that just about coasts by on the wit and chemistry of its star-studded cast.

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Leading the charge this time around is Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, the sister of a now deceased Danny, who’s just blagged her way out on parole after a lengthy prison stretch. Rather than reflecting on her life choices, Debbie wisely used her time inside to hatch a plan to pull-off the biggest jewel heist in history: nabbing a $150 million diamond necklace right off the neck of one of the world’s most famous celebs, Daphne Kluger (a gloriously bratty Anne Hathaway), at the Met gala. Bullock is excellent as the charismatic career criminal – the sheer ballsiness of the way she approaches her scheme is enough to make you root for her.

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Of course, even someone with hustling in their blood can’t pull-off such an audacious crime alone, and naturally Debbie recruits a ragtag band of different skill sets to help. Cate Blanchett’s vodka-diluting bar owner is her right-hand woman. Helena Bonham Carter’s debt-riddled designer is positioned as Daphne’s dress-maker. Sarah Paulson’s frustrated soccer mom (whose garage looks like an Amazon warehouse) is on hand to move the stolen goods. Awkwafina is a slick-talking fast-fingered pick-pocket. Rihanna plays a pot-smoking hacker. And Mindy Kaling rounds out the troupe as a jewellery maker who just wants to escape the clutches of her overbearing mother.

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Having assembled such an engaging, entertaining mix of characters, it’s a shame director Gary Ross traps them into such a spiritless, uninvolving movie. Ross tries to replicate some of Steven Soderbergh’s finger-snapping verve with plenty of split screens and funky transitions, but that fails to mask the unexciting story unfolding before our eyes. Potential pitfalls in plotting the heist are all-too easily navigated, the twists and turns are overly telegraphed (especially the ‘surprise’ reveal of Debbie’s eight recruit) and the biggest threat to Debbie’s plan going off without a hitch is a pot-smoking bus boy. Even the arrival of James Corden‘s gratingly English insurance investigator fails to turn up the heat on our hustlers.

With so little jeopardy, Ocean’s 8’s biggest thrill is finally seeing a film devoted to the exploits of a group of cool female criminals who get by on their guts, guile and smarts alone. No wonder the internet trolls stayed away: these women are a formidable bunch. It’s just a shame they weren’t given more of a chance to show it.

Runtime: 110 mins (approx.)
Director: Gary Ross
Screenwriters: Gary Ross, Olivia Milch
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Anne Hathaway

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Film Review

If Jurassic World really were a theme park, it’s grand opening couldn’t have gone any better. A visually dazzling, exhilaratingly dangerous thrill ride, the de-extincted franchise rocked and rumbled audiences off their seats – only for them to dust themselves off and line-up for another go around to the tune of more than $1.5 billion worldwide. But with unprecedented success comes T-Rex-sized expectations for Fallen Kingdom to not only match its predecessor’s savvy, ridiculous fun, but throw a whole new set of dizzying, terrifically enjoyable attractions into the mix. And that’s a challenge far easier said than done – just as the filmmakers behind The Lost World and III.

At the very least, Fallen Kingdom succeeds where those maligned sequels faltered, with screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly delivering a compelling motivation for their heroes to return to the land of marauding dinosaurs. Isla Neblar’s no-longer-dormant volcano is a ticking time bomb, forcing the park’s former operations managed-turned-dino activist Claire (Howard) and beefcake trainer Owen on a mission to rescue a handful of species, including Owen’s beloved Blue, before the lava starts to flow.

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While the crunched, twisted ruins of Isla Neblar remain a breathtaking sight, the Island-set sequences stomp a little too close to the dinos-chasing-people tropes of the rest of the franchise. The Impossible’s A. J. Bayona (who replaces Trevorrow in the director’s chair) unleashes a series of thunderously intense set-pieces – the highlight being a clawingly claustrophobic underwater scene; but we’ve seen unsuspecting visitors fleeing a thunderous stampede, braving uncomfortably close encounters with toothy reptiles, or getting trapped in a gyrosphere in previous movies. The plot hardly attempts to subvert expectations, either, with a clunky script that telegraphs its twists far too heavily for impact – it’ll surprise no-one to learn that the ruthless mercenaries hired to assist the evac have less than noble intentions.

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Even when the movie switches the action to the sprawling, spooky Lockwood Estate, it still feels like it’s going through the same motions. Bayona does more fine work, returning to the haunted house-stylings of his debut The Orphanage to orchestrate plenty of beautifully crafted scares as InGen’s latest gene-spliced plaything, the Indoraptor, breaks loose and starts prowling the mansion for prey. But again, the sight of humans cowering in the dark as a set of flared, scaly nostrils and a spiky grin hove into view is hardly unfamiliar. It feels like Bayona has merely renamed the ride and slapped on a fresh coat of paint, while the carriage still travels along the same old predictable track.

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Such a lack of invention might hardly be noticeable, were we invested in the fates of any of the characters. While Claire and Owen are more rounded and have far more chemistry this time out, Justice Smith’s nervy tech nerd and Daniella Pineda’s feminist paleoveterinarian barely register, and one character’s mysterious identity is too heavily foreshadowed to truly surprise. Meanwhile, Rafe Spall’s sneaky assistant, Ted Levine’s snarling trophy collector, and Toby Jones’ Trump-esque auctioneer are so cartoonishly hissable, it’s difficult to take seriously the film’s darker themes about animal testing and mankind’s responsibility to other life on this planet.

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Ultimately, then, Fallen Kingdom is little more than a well-crafted collection of fun, shiny set-pieces, but with little emotional tissue to bind them into a satisfying experience. With the story left tantalising poised on the cusp of a brave new Jurassic world, further instalments are seemingly inevitable; but on the basis of this so-so adventure, the question is: will anyone be back for another ride?

Runtime: 128 minutes (approx.)

Director: A. J. Bayona

Screenwriters: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Donnolly

Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Ted Levine