On the surface, “Ocean’s 8” doesn’t sound like a great idea—it follows a trio of wildly different films that managed to keep an ongoing story consistent. Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” trilogy is what I’d call a narratively distinct but delicious three-course meal that begins with a classic starter, moves it up with a main course of High-Stakes Heist: The European-Arthouse Remix, and closes with some visually sweet hyperrealism. Despite a top-billing cast and some insane brand power, it’s quite a crazy achievement for Soderbergh to have held his ground on his vision. The problematic obsession studios have to bank heavily on intertextuality adds to the skepticism. Here’s the thing though: it’s a pretty good movie.
Now it doesn’t break new ground or anything, but we need something lightweight that’s also a well-made movie every so often. Warts and all, “Ocean’s 8” is just that—a lot of guilt-free fun; quite a surprise, considering the qualitative track record of most comeback sequels we’ve gotten so far. Sure, it’s dangerously reminiscent of the first film (that parole interview was just too on-the-nose a reference), but as the minutes go by, you’ll realize just how much of a love letter it is to “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001). The idea isn’t to prove a point here or break critical ground but to have a blast doing what you love, thereby making a good film as you go. Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games,” 2012) seems to have done just that.
And with a cast this talented, you just can’t go wrong. The powerhouse coup of Sandra Bullock (“Gravity,” 2013), Cate Blanchett (“Thor: Ragnarok,” 2017), Anne Hathaway (“Colossal,” 2017), Mindy Kaling (“A Wrinkle in Time,” 2018), and Sarah Paulson (“Blue Jay,” 2016), among others, makes it difficult to imagine what the movie would have been without them. They’re the backbone of the film, and it shows.
However, the biggest surprises in the film aren’t Bullock or Blanchett (they’re both excellent, no fast ones pulled there)—they’re Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter (“Suffragette,” 2015). Hathaway’s portrayal of The Diva seems almost like walking a tightrope between poor parody and underperformance, but her conviction in the role makes it all look like a walk in the park. On the other hand, Bonham Carter nails the anxiety and low self-esteem—to the point that it becomes way too relatable. (Excuse me while I process my triggered nerves).
With so many things working so right with the movie, it’s hard not to think about just how convenient the heist feels—every plot device that could be ripe for tension appears to have a countermove that just seems to set everything straight. This is especially jarring in the third act, which diffuses a significant conflict no sooner than it’s introduced. Now that’s not to say the Big Reveals ruin everything—there are some twists that you’d low-key desperately want to happen and others you wouldn’t have seen coming.
Despite these hijinks, however, “Ocean’s 8” seems to more than redeem itself with its undeniable charm and consistent competence. Eigyl Bryld’s (“In Bruges,” 2008) cinematographic decisions—the classic old-school crash-zoom, for one—add a distinct visual flavor to the whole movie. Sprinkle that with a fantastic soundtrack that allows it a shared identity that’s both an homage and a series identifier of sorts, et voila! You’ve got yourself a heist film that’s stylish, confident, and topical.
A crucial conversation between Blanchett and Bullock’s characters while in the process of “recruiting” has the former asking the latter why doesn’t she want men in the team, to which the latter responds, “A Him gets noticed, a Her gets ignored. And for once, we’d like to be ignored.” This is the kind of subtle shade thrown at most societal restrictions on women and how men and women who grow up internalizing a particular mindset will be made to think. These women are tired of feeling dispensable, and strangely enough, the heist itself works to reclaim their agency in a world dominated by men.
This brings me to the most essential thing about “Ocean’s 8″—the movie isn’t as much about the destination but the ride. It’s about the protagonists getting to know each other, taking bold strides, breaking free, and having a blast. Somewhere along the line, long after you’ve walked out of the film, you’d realize that—fun as it was—the heist never mattered; it was the people all along. And in this case, that’s not a bad thing at all.