Sometimes you look at a cast and think, “I’ll watch this movie whatever the plot.” You might well think that when you see the promotions for The 355, as it boasts a quintet of thrilling leading ladies: Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, and Bingbing Fan. You might then perk up because it’s a spy movie, presumably promising exciting twists and explosive action. But you might want to keep scrolling when this hits streaming. Because despite its stars — which also includes MCU Winter Soldier, Sebastian Stan — this thriller is a snooze.
Directed by Simon Kinberg, The 355 follows female agents from secret intelligence agencies across the world, who reluctantly team up to chase down a hard drive so powerful it’s practically an Infinity Stone. It’s a McGuffin that’s absolutely unbelievable. The characters throw around words and metaphors about its genius and danger, and we’re meant to roll with it as they roll through one action set-piece to the next.
Credit: Universal Pictures
Yeah, sure, there’s action: gunfights aplenty, explosions occasionally, chases through crowded market places, and hand-to-hand combat. But there’s nothing that makes any of these stunts particularly spectacular. The editing jumps about with little regard for geography or flow, making every fight scene a flurry of action with little build. The cinematography often veers to Bourne Identity-style handheld, that’s meant to bring energy to the frame. However, it mostly seems to be covering for uninspiring fight choreography. Some combat scenes are in aching need of speed ramping with punches so slow they look pulled. One battle is half-hidden between the flashbangs of a gun in a dark room. And even amid a film theoretically meant to spotlight women, the first act recurringly has men pair off to fight men, and women to fight women.
Speaking of the supposed “girl power” of The 355, the film treats it like a flashy novelty. Male characters will be scolded by other male characters for being “beaten by a bunch of girls.” The heroines harumph of their male peers, “A girl really does need a guy to explain it all to her.” Or they’ll flatten womankind into a monolith with generalizations about how women blame themselves when things go wrong. But spoilers: it’s men’s fault. Such lines are propped up by stodgy stereotypes, including the steely blonde with “daddy issues,” the quirkily dressed hacker girl with quips, and the hardened agent brimming with vengeance rage. To remind us they’re battling in a boys’ club, each heroine has a male counterpart, who she either relies on, lies to, or tries to rescue. Thus, in this female-led movie, women are not only outnumbered by men (who play every supporting role and the color-by-numbers villain), but also these women’s identities are all built on their relations to men. Girl power!
Credit: Robert Viglasky/Universal Pictures
With forgettable fight scenes, this half-hearted attempt at feminism is the flashiest thing about The 355. Forget the style and swagger of James Bond’s fancy cars, shaken cocktails, and hi-tech. Don’t expect the fantasy-level fashion of Ocean’s 8 or the spirited interaction between charismatic heroines. The chemistry between Chastain and her co-stars is so disconnected that you might wonder if they all shot remotely. With stern expressions, their thinly drawn characters practically choke on banal dialogue that mistakes playful banter for Mean Girls barbs like:
“An enemy agent ruined my favorite dress.”
“If that was your favorite dress, she really did you a favor.”
Speaking of that dress, early on it’s a red flag that this movie will miss the mark of power fantasy and grounded thriller. Chastain wears an unremarkable floral sundress while barrelling down a crowded street in pursuit of an enemy. Then, remarkably, she pulls a large gun out of her dress. How? A secret pocket perhaps. The deepest pocket ever stitched into a sundress. A Mary Poppins pocket perhaps? A Mary Poppins pocket that not only allowed her to run smoothly while having a loaded gun holstered in it, but also didn’t make the SLIGHTEST impression on a light-weight sundress.
Credit: Robert Viglasky/Universal Pictures
A small detail, sure. Yet, it’s a telling one, reflecting how Kinberg had little interest in creating a world for his top-notch female spies that is remotely realistic or fantastical. It’s a murky somewhere in-between, where his lackluster heroines deliver punches and mournful monologues about stereotypically solemn backstories. Both of which hit with the power of a damp sponge. Part of the problem is that The 355 plays as if the writers think the audience — and their characters — have never seen a spy movie before. So, the cliches are played with stone-faced severity, while supposedly shocking twists are telegraphed by casting choices and painfully predictable setups. This mediocre movie takes itself so seriously, that it has bled all the charm of its stars and any life from its premise. With zero self-awareness, it’s a parade of mundane action, tired tropes, and tedious dialogue, like “Marie, you’re good at everything, except taking orders.”
Simply put, The 355 is a movie you can miss. Because if you’ve ever seen a mediocre action movie with a surprisingly stacked cast, then you’ve basically seen this.
The 355 is now in theaters and will be coming to Peacock soon.