Film Review: The 355
Director: Simon Kinberg
Kinberg Genre and Freckle Films
In Theaters 01.07
For those of you who didn’t see Elizabeth Banks’ feminist reboot of Charlie’s Angels in 2019—which, frankly, is most of you—Writer-director Simon Kinberg of the X-Men franchise and perennial Oscar hopeful Jessica Chastain invite you to figuratively skip it all over again with The 355, a grittier but far less inspired take on the girl-power spy movie.
In The 355, Chastain plays CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown, a tough, no-nonsense operative who is engaged in some romantic nonsense with Nick Fowler, a fellow no-nonsense operative (Sebastian Stan, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier). When everything goes south and plans for a a top-secret, dangerous and highly sought after–type thingy fall into the wrong hands, Mace must team up with German agent Marie (Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds), MI6 computer specialist Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Black Panther) and psychologist Graciela (Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers) in order to get it back. The reluctant team globe trots from Paris to Morocco to Shanghai and other exotic locales, shooting, kicking and talking about their relationships and feelings along the way.
The 355 isn’t a terrible movie, and its appealing and talented cast counts for a lot. Kinberg seems much more comfortable behind the camera than he did with X-Men: Dark Phoenix. But he cliche-ridden mess of a screenplay—credited to Kinberg, Theresa Rebeck and Bek Smith—is one of the laziest of Kinberg’s career, and they seem to be saving money on the budget by getting a deal on used dialogue. Even worse is the muddled plot, which relies on the exact same, incredibly vague shitstorm device (“If it gets into the wrong hands, it’s World War III”) McGuffin that Mission: Impossible has been beating into the ground ad nauseum since. While such things have always been a big part of espionage films, the ever-decreasing effort to make them new and interesting is becoming quite maddening.
The best thing about The 355 is that it’s fast moving, and the cast is an impressive bunch. Chastain, who recently starred in the spy thriller Ava, clearly wants to create a Bourne-style franchise for herself, and she’s got the talent, the physicality and the production company, but not the ability to tell a winning script from a loser. It’s abundantly clear that The 355 is meant to be the pilot for a franchise, and with more work it might have even have deserved to be one. Kruger and the fabulous Nyong’o are both strong, but it’s Cruz who gives the most memorable performances, once again proving that her natural charm and realism are second to none. The action is fine, but there’s nothing that stands out or feels new, and while there’s clearly an abstract goal to make The 355 a uniquely feminist flick that takes advantage of that dynamic—it never settles on how it wants to do so and often feels like it’s chickening out of trying anything new with the idea.
The 355 should have been a lot better, but it also could have been a lot worse. This is an easily digestible, and even more easily excreted, movie that has had the major misfortune of being moved from January 2021, only to have the pandemic hit another major peak right as its “safe” new release dates comes around. It’s inevitably going bomb at the box office. While the timing is bad, the fact is that if Universal Pictures wanted to release The 355 at the right time for it to be a hit, they needed to do so sometime around 2004. –Patrick Gibbs