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Ocean’s 8 proves that a great cast can make up for a middling movie

Ocean’s 8 isn’t a great movie, but it’s a perfect summer movie.

Ocean’s 8
Ocean’s 8.
Warner Bros.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. That’s the origin story for the greatest superhero team in recent memory, but it applies just as well to summer’s other mighty superhero group, the women of Ocean’s 8.

Around two years ago, production began on a spinoff of the highly successful and TBS-beloved Ocean’s Eleven franchise. The movie’s producers had a plan to assemble an all-star roster of impossibly likable and talented actresses to bring the franchise into 2018 and imbue it with a female-empowerment twist. Like the titular character Debbie Ocean, they had a goal.

For Debbie and her crew, that goal is robbing the Met Gala. For everyone involved in Ocean’s 8, it was creating one of the most successful and enjoyable movies of the summer.

Make no mistake: Ocean’s 8 isn’t particularly ambitious, in either that goal or its execution. The writing has a few holes, and Gary Ross’s direction never raises above the level of “workmanlike” — and doesn’t come close to Steven Soderbergh’s stylish work on 2001’s Ocean Eleven.

But if I’m being honest, what I’m looking for in an Ocean’s movie in 2018 isn’t great writing or eye-popping cinematography or experimental storytelling; I want to see some great actresses having the most fun. Ocean’s 8, at its most endearing, is a slick, glamorous romp that makes you yearn for three more hours with its impossibly charismatic crew.

Ocean’s 8 succeeds primarily on the strengths of its cast

Anne Hathaway in Ocean’s 8
Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter in Ocean’s 8.
Warner Bros.

The origin story for this superhero team begins in jail. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney in the Ocean’s franchise of the mid-aughts and Frank Sinatra in the 1960 original), has spent the past five years plotting the perfect heist (with a side of revenge) and is armed with a grand to-do list.

The agenda targets the Met Gala — specifically the most decadent Cartier necklace ever created, worn by the actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) during fashion’s biggest night.

At the top of Debbie’s list is reconnecting with the blunt-banged Lou (Cate Blanchett), her best friend and ringleader. Together, they need to track down a hacker (Rihanna), a jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a designer (Helena Bonham Carter), a pickpocket (Awkwafina), and a smuggler (Sarah Paulson) to carry out Debbie’s plan. Each one of these women is skilled at her respective scam, but all are often overlooked or second on a shortlist in large part because of their gender. (Debbie makes a couple of pointed mentions of how men get all the attention and women are forgotten.) But they’re the top choice for Debbie and Lou.

As with Ocean’s Eleven’s motley crew of con artists, these characters aren’t developed much beyond their elite competency; with the exception of Bonham Carter’s loony Rose and Awkwafina’s gruff Constance, their skills are their personalities. But it doesn’t really matter. Blanchett, Paulson, Kaling, and Rihanna could spend the whole movie heating up pizza rolls and folding laundry, and it would still be entertaining. Watching these actresses hanging out together is inherently fun.

While Bullock and Blanchett get the meat of the script to work with, surprisingly it’s Hathaway who slinks off with the entire movie — in part because she gets to play a glamorous, soulless simulacrum of herself. Hathaway’s Kluger is the stuffy celebrity it-girl and the star of the Met Gala. The character herself is thinly conceived, a cynical but unimaginative facsimile of our idea of the Hollywood starlet, yet Hathaway takes every opportunity to dive into the role, hamming it up underneath the devilish glaze of a raspberry red lip.

Ocean’s 8 is the cinematic equivalent of a perfect summer beach read

There are movies with carefully crafted cinematography, thoughtful dialogue, and searing images that are designed to stick with you forever. These are very different from the sort of movie that you could watch forever, preferably in an air-conditioned theater with a giant soda and salty popcorn, or at home while you prepare pasta and nurse a glass of wine. Ocean’s 8 is definitively, in the best way possible, the latter type of movie.

To its credit, it never pretends to be anything more than what it is: a breezy summer movie with eight fun antiheroines worth rooting for. I never knew that one of the things I wanted most in my short life was to see Cate Blanchett in a sparkly emerald jumpsuit. Nor did I know that I wanted to assemble my own gang of quirky, attractive, implicitly homosexual thieves to rob luxury retail stores and ruin terrible men’s lives. They just make it look so fun and easy.

But that’s also the movie’s most glaring fault.

Ocean’s 8’s central heist, its twists, and its “villain” never feel like they’re a challenge for this gang of eight. The most suspenseful and unpredictable part of the film is seeing what glorious costume your favorite actress will turn up in in next. Each obstacle they face is handled deftly and quickly, to the point where our rogues never feel like they could be in trouble or face any consequences for what they’ve done. It makes the heist, and by extension the movie, feel so light it might just float away, draped in a stylish gown.

And yet there’s a particular strain of joy to be derived from watching the fantastic Cate Blanchett buy a remote-controlled submarine and motor it around a pond in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The sooner you tap into that particular joy, the sooner you may realize that while Ocean’s 8 was never going to be the best movie of summer, it might be one of the ones you enjoy most.

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