Ocean’s 8 is a film of both familiarity and absence. The opening sequence features an Ocean (Debbie, played by Sandra Bullock) facing a parole board, much as this franchise started in 2001. Upon her release, Debbie reunites with a former partner in crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett), and they subsequently recruit a motley crew of experts in nefarious activities and plan an audacious heist. Along the way there are surprises and twists, cross-cutting both spatial and temporal, an upbeat soundtrack and a slick portrait of opulence and wealth. The significant absences are an immersive sense of place and Steven Soderbergh’s ephemeral touch. Director Gary Ross gives New York a functional rendering that pales in comparison to Soderbergh’s almost otherworldly depiction of Las Vegas, and while Ross is competent enough he seems to struggle with innovative style. Fortunately, a game cast add as much sparkle as the object of the heist. Bullock and Blanchette are a superb double act, making this viewer hope they work together again with richer (no pun intended) material. Excellent support comes from Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Rhianna, Helena Bonham-Carter and Awkwafina as other members of the crew, but arguably (and perhaps ironically) Anne Hathaway steals the show as she chews her way through all the scenery around her. Narratively and stylistically, Ocean’s 8 lacks substance, but its cast provides a glittering shine.
A long time ago at a cinema far away (from my current location), a friend commented that The Phantom Menace suffered from the lack of Han Solo. Twenty years later, we get a prequel/spin-off (pre-off? Spin-quel?) all about Han, later Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). Ron Howard’s film makes a virtue of omitting the baggy story of those earlier installments while still referencing such Star Wars lore as the Empire, Tatooine and the Kessel Run. The film’s closest cinematic cousin, however, is Serenity, incorporating elements of the western and the heist film. These elements include lawless planets, a train job, gun slinging (including an unambiguous first shot), crime syndicates complete with menacing boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), and perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the film: a motley crew of vagabonds. This crew includes Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), Rio Durant (Jon Favreau), Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the introduction of other familiar characters including Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and a certain spaceship that any Star Wars fan would love a ride on. Ehrenreich embodies the cocksure charm and charisma needed for the young Solo, and his relationships with Qi’ra, Beckett and Chewbacca give the film heart. Howard incorporates these characters into some thrilling action set pieces – including a speeder race that recalls the director’s Rush – and some exhilarating space chases and dynamic combat sequences including the closest the film comes to a light sabre duel. This distance indicates the film’s major weakness: without the mystical element of the Jedi and the wider menace posed by the Empire (used to great effect in Rogue One), Solo feels somewhat flimsy and underpowered, the central McGuffin allowing little more than suggested links to wider events. Han has always been a fun character, but he works best in comparison to more idealistic figures such as Luke, Leia and, more recently, Rey and Finn. Here, everyone is a charming rogue and Han is simply the fresh blood, his arc and contributions offering little that we have not seen before. Solo is enjoyable while it lasts, but overall it lacks a certain Force.