Movie Review: THE 355
Spy movies are no strangers to Hollywood, but The 355 flips the script and trades in a typically male-fronted cast for an all-women team. Starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz, and Fan Bingbing, The 355 follows the trend of movies like Ocean’s 8 and Atomic Blonde — though it’s not based on a preexisting franchise — by subverting cast expectations within the spy genre. The film was directed by Simon Kinberg (Dark Phoenix), who co-wrote the script with Theresa Rebeck. The 355 is an entertaining if unremarkable spy movie, with predictable story beats and mediocre action that’s only somewhat saved by its strong cast.
It follows Mace Brown (Chastain), a CIA operative tasked with retrieving a hard drive from defected Colombian agent Luis (Édgar Ramirez) that could usher in the end of the world if it falls into the wrong hands. However, her operation goes awry when German agent Marie (Kruger) also attempts to recover the drive, which causes trouble for Mace and her partner Nick (Sebastian Stan). When the drive is stolen from Luis, Mace must team up with Marie, former MI6 agent Khadijah (Nyong’o), DNI psychologist Graciela (Cruz), and Chinese MSS agent Lin Mi Sheng (Fan) in order to get it back and prevent the global destruction it could cause.
Because Hollywood has been making spy movies for many decades, it can be difficult for filmmakers to offer something completely fresh and original. Even Atomic Blonde, which was hailed as a breath of fresh air in the action genre, was compared to John Wick. With The 355, Kinberg and Rebeck don’t make much of a case for it with regards to offering something different. The 355’s main point of differentiation is that it’s a women-led team, but its story could’ve been pulled from any number of previous spy movies, with entirely predictable twists that viewers will be able to see coming a mile away. Unfortunately, Kinberg and Rebeck offer little reason to check out The 355.
For the film’s part, however, the cast is compelling to watch. Chastain’s Mace falls victim to the issue of a story’s main character being the least interesting one, with her primary characteristic being that she doesn’t have any personal attachments. Kruger has much more to work with as Marie, a German agent who turned in her rogue father at a young age. Similarly one note are Khadijah and Graciela, who are the opposites of Mace and Marie, both having personal attachments in the form of significant others and families, making them reluctant to get involved. Fan’s character gets the least amount of screen time of the leads, leaving her with little to work with as well. But whereas the characters aren’t particularly complex, the dynamic of the group is entertaining to watch as their various personalities clash or come together. Individually, they aren’t very compelling, but as a group, they’re fun to watch.
Half the sell of any action spy movie is the action, but this movie doesn’t offer much in the way of memorable action scenes. They’re serviceable, with the cast and stunt crew doing a good enough job to keep viewers watching. Because of its PG-13 rating, the movie lacks the brutality of some other entries in the genre, and with the derivative script, Kinberg’s film would’ve benefitted from more captivating action sequences. As it stands, the action sequences are largely unexceptional, not even managing to rise above the less-than-clever script. Perhaps the most interesting thing about The 355 is its lack of gratuitous violence toward women, though the leads get into plenty of scrapes throughout the course of their mission. However, the goodwill of that lack of violence is lost through a number of contrived lines and pandering to a shallow idea of “girl boss” spies.
Ultimately, The 355 is an okay action movie that doesn’t set itself apart from the pack of spy films. As a result, those interested in the cast would be fine checking it out — in a theater or by waiting until its home release. But those who aren’t intrigued by the premise or the cast would also be fine skipping this one. The 355 proves it’s not enough for Hollywood to increase the number of women in a typically male-dominated genre. A compelling story, characters, and exciting action are necessary.
Director: Simon Kinberg
Writer (story by): Theresa Rebeck
Writers: Theresa Rebeck | Simon Kinberg | Bek Smith
Cast: Jessica Chastain as Mason ‘Mace’ Brown | Lupita Nyong’o as Khadijah | Penélope Cruz as Graciela | Diane Kruger as Marie | Fan Bingbing as Lin Mi Sheng | Sebastian Stan as Nick | Edgar Ramírez | Emilio Insolera as Hacker | Jason Wong | Leo Staar as Grady