'Ocean's Twelve' Is a Great Sequel About How Hard It Is to Make a Great Sequel
Here's a great bit of film crit by Mr. Matt Springer.
But "Ocean's Twelve," like the embezzlers at its center, is engaged in a number of long cons, and the audience is the mark in all of them. The film tricks you into thinking it's one thing and then repeatedly reveals itself as another. With enough viewings and distance, you begin to see that the film is entirely about the act of its own creation.
Consider the set-up: Benedict finds Ocean's Eleven, scattered to the winds, and demands they reform and repay his money, plus a little extra. In our sequel-about-sequels reading, Benedict plays the role of the studio executive who convinces Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Soderbergh and company reunite. He doesn't care how they do it as long as it's bigger than before (the principal plus interest). Given that they pulled off maybe the craziest movie heist in history the first time around, this is no easy task.
Ocean's Eleven reassembles and grudgingly travels to Europe. They try to get back into the groove, but their hearts just aren't in it. "We're forcing it," Pitt's Rusty says to Danny when their first heist in Amsterdam -- stealing a valuable document from the safe of an agoraphobic -- proves impossible and they continue to press ahead anyway. "We're forcing it," Danny agrees, voicing the filmmakers' own reticence about their assignment and acknowledging their mercenary intentions.
The gang eventually pulls off the impossible, but there's a catch: The Night Fox has beaten them to the punch, stealing the document before they arrived, and taunting them with an audio message he leaves behind in the agoraphobic's safe. Here is part of his message to Danny Ocean:
"In arriving second, Mr. Ocean, you have joined a long line of people who have worked very hard and risked a great deal only to get somewhere second. You don't know any of these people by name, of course, because they enter oblivion. You know this word, oblivion? It means to be totally forgotten by everyone forever."
Most sequels risk a great deal (namely their creators' artistic credibility) only to get somewhere second. Many of these movies are forgotten because they quickly enter oblivion, and for Soderbergh and Clooney and all the rest, that is precisely what they are facing with "Ocean's Twelve." The Night Fox was the one who tipped off Benedict about Ocean's Eleven, and then pressured him to pursue their debt under specific circumstances that require the gang to commit more heists. So if Benedict represents a studio executive, then The Night Fox represents the audience -- whose love of the first movie whispers in the executive's ear and inspires him to greenlight a sequel.