Starring an ensemble cast, The 355 is the latest film by screenwriter and Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg. The film follows several international female spies who band together to retrieve a nuclear weapon from a terrorist entity, who intends to use it to start World War III.
Pitched to buyers during Cannes 2018, the project garnered initial significant attention due to its impressive key cast that included Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Marion Cotillard, Fan Bingbing, and Penélope Cruz. In the two years leading up to its original 2021 release date, Kinberg’s directorial debut, Dark Phoenix, was poorly received, Cotillard dropped out of the project, and Fan Bingbing was detained by Chinese authorities due to tax evasion. It goes without saying that the development of The 355 has had its fair share of ups and downs, notwithstanding the COVID pandemic delaying the film’s release.
Despite its issues, the film is building on the premise of a female-driven action film. An array of 2021 releases such as Netflix films Gunpowder Milkshake and Kate, as well as blockbusters Black Widow and No Time to Die, have seen female characters make their mark in the genre, and The 355 is the latest to feature a female-centric group narrative. With so much promise, does Kinberg’s latest feature meet expectations?
The 355 starts with a master key being recovered by a raid in Colombia, which has the ability to bring down aircraft and cause blackouts. It quickly causes a flurry among various secret agencies, who wish to secure it before it falls into the wrong hands. When a group of female agents, including CIA agent Mace (Chastain), German BND agent Marie (Kruger) and former MI6 agent Khadijah (Nyong’o) realise they have a common goal, they decide to work together to retrieve the key.
There is a reason why James Bond is an effective spy; he has a cold-hearted mindset, a general sense of distrust, and a reluctance to form emotional connections. Unfortunately, Kinberg and co-screenwriter Theresa Rebeck use The 355‘s core characters’ emotionality that weakens their defensive personalities. What doesn’t help is their (cliche) personal or professional connections to a man – therapist Graciela (Cruz) is only concerned about going home to her family, Mace struggles with her feelings for colleague Nick (Stan), and even Marie, arguably the coldest member of the group, has trust issues seemingly driven by her late father. With emotionality culminating in a tense scene that catalyses the film’s final act, this lacklustre character development subsequently fails to deliver the strong-willed mindset expected of a spy film. Along with the uninspired dialogue and predictable narrative, the film heavily relies on its stellar ensemble cast.
Thankfully, the core cast steps up to the challenge. Kruger and Chastain provide a confident foundation as veteran agents while Nyong’o, Fan and Cruz add sophistication and the odd light-hearted moment that complements the group dynamic. In addition, the enjoyable stunt work and action scenes have a roughness reminiscent of the Jason Bourne series and the film’s theme of multiculturalism emphasises the global threat flowing through the narrative – with the main cast being so great, it is just a shame that The 355‘s poorly conceived character and plot development seems to overwhelm everything.
By the time The 355 rolls credits, it comes across as a disappointing step for female action films. Despite the cast’s best efforts, the film stumbles out of the starting blocks and fails to pick itself up out of the inevitable sea of testosterone.
The 355 is out in UK cinemas on Friday 7 Jan 2022.
Director: Simon Kinberg; Theresa Rebeck (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Sebastian Stan, Édgar Ramirez
Runtime: 124 minutes