Ocean's 8 is an amusing but overly safe spin on Steven Soderbergh's beloved franchise
The film industry is currently going through a twisted crisis of conscience. It faces a world that is rightfully demanding more leading roles for women, and luckily it is cracking under the pressure and noticeably pushing more female-centric films into production. Hollywood is a slow-moving machine, however, so they can only accept change little steps at a time. This awkward mix of hesitance and acceptance has brought you Ocean's 8, a sequel of sorts to Steven Soderbergh's much-loved Ocean's Eleven franchise that swaps out the boys' club of those films for an all-female cast packed to the brim with some of the biggest names in pop culture. The problem is that this sort of gender-swapping tactic, while well-intentioned, leads to rather lazy carbon copies of the male-dominated films that will leave you wishing something more original was produced in its stead.
That's not to say the film doesn't have worth. It follows the tried and true formula of Soderbergh's films, with a crew of eccentric criminals coming together to pull off a heist of exquisite jewels locked away in the Cartier vault. Sandra Bullock (Gravity), playing the equally mischievous sister to George Clooney's (now dead) Danny Ocean, leads a dynamite cast that includes Cate Blanchett (Carol), Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada), Helena Bonham Carter (the Harry Potter franchise), Sarah Paulson (American Crime Story), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), and musicians Rhianna and Awkwafina. The cast is clearly having a blast in their roles, with Hathaway in particular delivering one of her best comedic performances as the ditzy and dramatic actress the crew is manipulating into bringing the jewels to the Met Gala.
From the get-go it's clear the film's issues don't lie with its cast, but with those behind the camera, namely writer-director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games). Ross is the sort of uninspired, safe choice that you would expect a big studio to bring in for this film. As you watch Ross try and fail to pull his best Soderbergh impression, you can feel the weight of Hollywood's cold feet when it comes to taking further creative risks with films focused on female casts. The first half of the film exists desperately in the shadow of the previous entries in the franchise, trying so hard to exude an air of cool that it forgets that's what its excellent cast is for. It's so preoccupied with capturing that Ocean's essence that it often doesn't give the cast much to do, turning a roster full of promise into an often frustratingly under-explored collection of stock characters. With so many talented and unique female directors breaking the industry's glass ceiling, it's difficult to imagine why Warner Bros. couldn't have just allowed a more capable woman to take charge of this.
Despite the disappointment of Ross's flair for cheap imitation, the film does perk up considerably when the heist gets going. It certainly goes through the motions of its predecessors, with twists and gags galore, but Ocean's 8 feels most confident when it's actually pulling off the job it's selling you on. Only the most curmudgeonly of moviegoers will resist the breezy fun of watching these mightily talented ladies pull one over on a whole gaggle of men. In the end, the heist may be half-baked, but man are those pockets of gooey goodness delicious.