This article contains Ocean’s 8 spoilers.
Ocean’s 8 is in theaters and it is fabulous. Like a half-dozen crooks dressing to the nines for the Met Gala—plus Debbie Ocean’s crew too!—the film made its debut at the box office ball in grand style. Opening at over $41 million, the Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett led heist reinvented the familiar Ocean’s formula in cunning fashion and earned the highest opening in the series’ run. It also was just a really sharp redo, keeping the spirit and style of Steven Soderbergh’s previous Ocean’s Eleven remake from 2001 while also making everything its own.
Imbued with feminine style, the movie more than just “gender-flipped” the concept of the franchise, and replaced Las Vegas chips with Manhattan jewels; it gave a unique standpoint to the formulae by exploring how a crew of female master criminals might differ. Notably, there is no real major villain of the piece. While Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean is definitely getting back at her ex, Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), that is only the frosting on the cake. A bonus to a job well done… and done well with the ostensible mark joining the team.
Indeed, rather than the mark being the enemy, Anne Hathaway’s Daphne Kluger turns out to be the film’s greatest asset, both narratively and intertextually. As a vain, pernicious—and hysterical—satire of the warped caricature of Hathaway that was created six years ago by lazy celebrity gossip media, Hathaway’s performance skewers that dated perception and allows the actress to jump on the other side of the Devil Wears Prada paradigm she helped make famous in that chick flick classic. Yet how the world has turned.
In 2006, Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly was the eponymous Devil of the piece, albeit a sympathetic one after Streep’s mandated rewrites, who tempted Hathaway’s ingénue to the pits of horror movie bitchiness. Yet Ocean’s 8 allows her to finally embrace Miranda’s tutelage, as well as the regressive media narratives about Hollywood starlets who stick around too long and deign to become bonafide stars (notably the backlash came after Hathaway was on the verge of winning an Oscar, just as Jennifer Lawrence now faces it for remaining popular after her YA franchise ended). But even so, Daphne is as much a competent heroine as the “nicer” protagonists who are trying to rob her.
Hence why Daphne’s inclusion into Debbie Ocean’s team marks a major departure from Ocean’s Eleven’s tidy formula, emphasizing female inclusiveness, as well as competence that need not be vilified. It is the best example of how Ocean’s 8 is its own glorious thing, even while still being totally of the same Soderbergh cloth. Hewing perhaps a little too closely to the story beats of Soderbergh’s previous remake, director and co-writer Ross repeats a number of narrative moments from the original movie. Still, there is a reason for this: Ocean’s 8 is not a remake or reboot; it’s a spinoff and continuation of the greater “Ocean’s universe.” And that is why the cameos in the film are so crucial.
Featuring two major cameos—or even three if you count Danny Ocean’s gravesite—the film is not against utilizing faces from the previous Ocean’s Eleven trilogy, or suggesting that all male presences in the lives of Debbie, Lou (Blanchett), Daphne, and the rest are somehow wholly negative. In fact, they prove vital for the final, enriching twist.
The first cameo comes early when Debbie visits the grave of George Clooney’s supposedly dead Danny. A respectful, if not-so-mournful, sister deadpans, “I hope you’re really in there,” but she doth protest too much. She, like the audience, cannot imagine Danny Ocean ever dying, particularly off-screen. Hence why she treats his supposed passing as an excuse to drink martinis in the middle of the day, as opposed to saying goodbye to a loved one. However, it also allows the first living cameo when Elliot Gould’s Reuben shows up and asks Debbie to not mourn the past or spend too much time around the dead. This is likely because he knows that coffin is as empty as the many Las Vegas vaults they plundered back in the day.
Danny’s not dead, but he is also not going to upstage his sister. So enters the usefulness of Reuben’s inclusion. It gives a respectful nod to the franchise’s past and legacy, while moving things forward. Similarly, Ocean’s 8 and Debbie Ocean, who previously said she “doesn’t want a him” on the team, can still make exceptions when it proves prudent. Hence the final twist of the film where it’s revealed Shaobo Qin’s Yen was in on the score the whole time.
Indeed, in Soderbergh-like flashbacks, we learn that Lou sought his services, and while the rest of the women were sweating whether a security officer would stumble upon Mindy Kaling’s Amita as she performs the whole diamond-switcheroo, Yen was quadrupling the worth of their score by stealing the entire bejeweled collection of Anna Wintour’s Met Gala exhibit. It turns out, the film is letting the alleged “Devil” get hers, after all.
On the surface, this is some nice fan service as an old favorite from the original Ocean’s trilogy, as a guy who never really got his due from Danny (who once even packed him inside a suitcase for days) now has a moment to shine and do some spectacular acrobatics. However, unlike the women of the piece, he isn’t allowed to strut out of the Met Gala in maximum wish fulfillment mode. That’s because this isn’t his movie—albeit it’s still his franchise.
That distinction is why the cameos are crucial in Ocean’s 8, and how the film succeeds over Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters from 2016. Because like Ocean’s 8, that film was a reboot of a popular franchise that had long been dormant. However, unlike Ocean’s 8, it attempted to ignore everything that came before it while framing its gender-flip in a confrontational lens. The actors of the classic 1984 Ghostbusters who cameoed there were playing not old favorites but antagonistic presences who needed to be overcome by the remake’s crew, and in a film that, while well-meaning, ultimately felt overly contrarian by turning every male character in the film into a conduit for patriarchal control.
There are also douchebag and misogynistic men in Ocean’s 8, and one in particular who gets a delicious comeuppance when his ex and current movie star girlfriend conspire to frame him for a long prison stint, but the film is not about depicting all of its male characters as props for a worthwhile message; it also doesn’t recast the beloved heroes of the original in that negative gaze.
Ocean’s 8 pays its nominal and necessary respect to the past but is still wholly its own beautiful thing. Presumably, in one of the inevitable Ocean’s 8 sequels, we’ll even get George Clooney’s Danny “miraculously” resurrected from the dead. But not right now. This is Debbie, Lou, and the rest’s time to shine. And that they do in a film that is part of a beloved franchise, and also an intelligent evolution of it that is cutting its own dazzling path.