There are times when you want sequels to break from the format of the original – when the series is supposed to be a cohesive single plot effectively and each “sequel” is actually more like a volume of a epic, a self-contained story in each that is different, but the key plot points tying it together keep it a single story overall. This is the Bourne movies, the Pirates, what the Matrix series aspired to be. (Star Wars or LotR don’t count because they’re effectively one movie cut up for convenience)
And at times, you want sequels to be munch-on-popcorn formulaic because you know what you’re in for and you know why and you’re just there to enjoy the ride, be it the Lethal Weapon or Die Hard style, or indeed the Police Academy series. These are the sequels that don’t need to sell themselves as requiring a knowledge of the original, but that knowledge helps to get you in the door.
(Warning: there may be spoilers ahead. click through at your own risk)
Ocean’s is clearly in the latter category. You didn’t go to Ocean’s Twelve because you wanted to find out how it all worked out for Danny, Rusty and the boys after Eleven; you went because you wanted to watch another rollicking crime caper with a bunch of actors who just get together to goof off on screen. The formula was established – Set up (why the crime is necessary), prep (all those gadgets and convoluted con schemes to get the crime going), climax and apparent failure/set back (the disappointment at seeing all those clever devices fail), reveal of success and review of unseen success (the audience only saw the public face of the plot! we were as deceived as the victims!), and finally denouement (the bad guy realises he got screwed and the girl walks away with our hero).
It’s a classic crime caper formula that works even better with the cast, which clearly has fun together doing all these things. Worth watching, I tell you.
So why didn’t they stick to the formula for Thirteen? It’s puzzling to me. They were back to the scene of the first crime, in Las Vegas. Back to casinos and doing what they did best, rather than trying to jack an art gallery in Europe. There were two femmes to carry over and a new competitor thief! Sure, they couldn’t do-over Benedict yet again, as that would just be cruel, but the potential was there, right? Everything was set.
Instead, we get a movie where they toss out key components of the formula in, dare I say it, pursuit of a quick buck. The set up is limited, the prep a little convoluted and lacking a sense of inventiveness, the apparent failure and subsequent reveal of unseen success all but missing, and the denouement altogether too abrupt, with no girl walking away to complete the litany of let downs. If you pare back the formula of a formula film, you’re left with nothing to go on!
You can tell the guys had fun making this movie again, for the most part, but they don’t seem as committed, as into their roles as they were previously – the desperation of the situation in the first two movies is gone, and this time it’s revenge (on someone else’s behalf) that is motivating them, which is never going to be as creative as the plans pulled out as hair brained strategies that probably won’t work, but just might pull off in a stroke of luck. No-one’s got anything serious on the line here, and so the thieves are a little less sympathy-worthy.
They’re also getting nostalgic, taking time to talk about the old days, when people “shook Sinatra’s hand”, and in doing so they lose the in-the-moment joy of the first two. You can also see the rest of the ensemble clambering for their own slice of the action, to the detriment of the time Danny and Rusty spend on screen – there’s a reason why those guys are considered the leads, and taking time away from their abilities is only going to disappoint.
Is it worth it? Maybe. It’s still a decent romp, if lacking the fun of the first and the over-the-top spirit of the second, not to mention the slick style that pervaded them both.