The 355, 2022.
Directed by Simon Kinberg.
Starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Fan Bingbing, Sebastian Stan, Edgar Ramírez, Sylvester Groth, Jason Flemyng, John Douglas Thompson, Jason Wong, Leo Staar, Raphael Acloque, Marta Svetek, Waleed Elgadi, Francisco Labbe, and Toby Sauerback.
When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, a wild card CIA agent joins forces with three international agents on a lethal mission to retrieve it, while staying a step ahead of a mysterious woman who’s tracking their every move.
The 355 is a hollow stab at female empowerment, but at least the casting department had the good sense to bring aboard a diverse and talented group of performers that almost make this work based on their no-nonsense attitude, charisma, and girl power chemistry. And while director Simon Kinberg (also writing alongside Theresa Rebeck, who conceived the story with Bek Smith) musters up a moderate amount of intrigue early on during globetrotting action sequences that work toward unifying the female agents of their respective government agencies, there is also something painfully predictable coming in the second half that comes with an unnecessary dysfunctional mess of ideas that extends the story beyond its welcome, becoming a mixture of tedious and overly convoluted (the latter is especially unforgivable considering nothing is interesting whatsoever about the villains here).
If you’re wondering what sort of nefarious master plan would see female agents of different countries tuning up in the first place, well, The 355 centers on a hard drive that falls into the hands of a mercenary (Edgar Ramirez). If you can think of something malicious, this device is probably capable of causing that destruction (shutting down planes in the sky, causing citywide powder outages, cyber hacking on a terrorism level, etc.). As for this mercenary, he’s merely looking to get rid of such power while pocketing some cash.
Meanwhile, CIA agents Mace and Nick (Jessica Chastain and Sebastian Stan, respectively) are sent on a field mission to Paris to retrieve the device. However, once they land and start making preparations in their hotel room, Nick decides this is a perfect and romantic opportunity to take their long-standing friendship to the next stage. On the one hand, there is reason to be thankful that The 355 quickly splits up this duo, putting Mace work alongside the other women brought into this dangerous fold; the only time this flick pops is when they are working together or swapping stories about how they became agents. A better movie would have kept that focus on bonding sisterhood without taking the wind out of its sails with what’s to come (technically, it’s a spoiler, but you would have never to have seen a movie before not to know what’s going to happen).
Fortunately, the other agents are magnetic presences such as a British cyber security expert capable of wrangling everyone onto the same page (Lupita Nyong’o), a German spy with trust issues played by Diane Kruger (one of the more fascinating characters as through her personal history and agency it’s evident that such a male-dominated profession has had its adverse effects when in reality her concerns are always valid), a Colombian psychologist (Penelope Cruz) that is justifiably terrified after getting roped into the conflict but naturally comes into her own as a means to protect her family, and a mysterious Chinese operator (Bingbing Fan) that’s one step ahead in the weapons race and hand-to-hand combat.
There’s one sequence where The 355 does come together as engaging espionage. It’s at a Shanghai auction house where everyone uses their distinct characteristics to obtain information on the whereabouts of the drive. In most films, these characteristics would also be their only noteworthy trait, but again, the performers imbue these characters with likability even if there’s not too much under the surface. It’s bare minimum female empowerment (at one point, a villain exclaims “how were you defeated by a bunch of girls” for crying out loud), and the action itself is a bit too choppy even if there is some fine stuntwork throughout, but the talent on-hand smooths out some of the rocky narrative. Unfortunately, there comes a point where Simon Kinberg loses control, complete with a ridiculous epilogue that even has the characters themselves mention how little sense it makes.
The result is inoffensive and instantly forgettable, only noteworthy for putting together such an impressive ensemble cast that isn’t necessarily wasted but doesn’t showcase anything exciting. However, there is potential for improvement; hopefully, a future The 355 sequel (yes, I may not think this is a good movie, but I’m not opposed to expanding on what’s here with more) digs deeper into the individual lives of these agents rather than offering glimpses of how they stand out from one another. A less silly threat inside an otherwise serious movie (that pleasantly not afraid to kill off supporting characters demonstrating the peril of the situation) also couldn’t hurt. The idea is solid; these talented women simply deserve better writing and stronger set pieces to work with.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com