Female-led action movies aren’t anything new — a quick glance at the early filmographies of trailblazers like Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock confirms as much — but the past few years have seen an uptick all the same. 2021 saw the likes of Kate, Baby Assassins, Gunpowder Milkshake, Black Widow, The Protege, Jolt (two of these made the cut in our list of 2021’s Best Action Movies), and more, and now 2022 is kicking off with another title hoping to jumpstart a female-centric franchise. Unfortunately, while there’s no arguing with the onscreen talent assembled for The 355, both the script and direction leave a lot to be desired.
A dangerously powerful piece of high-tech gear falls into the hands of a Colombian soldier (Edgar Ramirez) after a bloody shootout, and when he offers to unload the item to the CIA for a price the organization sends two agents to make the exchange. Mace (Jessica Chastain, already the face behind another failed bid at action stardom with 2020’s Ava) and Nick (Sebastian Stan) are a couple both on and off duty, but the deal goes sideways — he ends up dead, and she ends up on the run with charges of treason laid squarely at her feet. Forced to crack the case and retrieve the drive without agency help, Mace joins forces with other female agents including the UK’s Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), Germany’s Marie (Diane Kruger), and Colombia’s Graciela (Penelope Cruz). Tagged as traitors, the foursome head off an an international journey to save the world and clear their names.
The problems with The 355 are legion, starting with that title — so forgettable that even the filmmakers had to be reminded to explain it, something they jam into the film’s final moments — and continuing on down the line. What works, though, is a cast of committed actors who deserve better.
As mentioned above, Chastain’s continued attempts to kickstart an action franchise have yet to bear fruit, but you have to admire the effort. She shows off some physical chops here, and while the fights fail to impress they show at attempt at engaging with the action. Nyong’o, Kruger, and Cruz have all dipped their toes into the genre here and there — as has Bingbing Fan who joins the fun in the film’s back half — but while all of them show competency at swinging a fist or firing a gun their hard work is too often butchered in the editing room.
The action in The 355 is messy, clunky, and rarely shot or edited in such a way as to leave viewers thrilled or impressed. That’s not ideal for an action movie, but it’s also not surprising coming from director/co-writer Simon Kinberg. This is second stab at directing a film after 2019’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix — why Chastain, a co-star in that film and a producer on this one, would support hiring him for the gig is anyone’s guess — and even with a substantial reduction in CG shenanigans the results are still immediately forgettable. Fights cut too frequently, punch in and out, crop the picture excessively, and wind up as little more than noise. Even an early foot chase fails to thrill as it lacks both momentum and beats that pop. Seriously, ninety percent of it is the person being chased knocking things into the path of their pursuer.
Even forgiving the action and focusing on the espionage/spy thrills leaves viewers cold as The 355‘s script (by Kinberg and television veteran Theresa Rebeck) rehashes familiar beats with abandon. Pat yourself on the back if/when you catch the rip-off of Spy (2015) a full hour before the actual reveal. Films successfully rehash familiar plot points all the time, but that success comes in the execution of those ideas — and that’s just not happening here. The tech here, a one-of-a-kind hard drive containing a program that can hack anything with a network connection, is the expected MacGuffin, but an abundance of attention is paid to it through inane story turns and decisions. From a wholly unnecessary auction subplot to the team’s failure to just destroy the damn thing at multiple opportunities, the film threatens to leave viewers put off by the ineptitude of heroes and villains alike. Cruz’s character is only brought along because her fingerprint opens a cell phone — a security feature that could easily be turned off or switched to a different user!
Anyway. It’s good seeing the four leads interact and take down bad guys even if they don’t appear to be having much fun in The 355. That’s a contrast to the likes of Gunpowder Milkshake (not a good movie, but the cast is having a blast) or Ocean’s Eight (2018), and while the attempt at something slightly more serious is admirable the dull, lackluster results speak for themselves. A surprisingly mean sequence late in the film suggests a tightening of the screws, but even that’s quickly forgiven/forgotten by the film’s wobbly tone. But hey, at least they task Fan with saying “ancient Chinese poison” like she’s selling detergent and give Nyong’o a face scar that’s never referenced strictly so that the others aren’t intimidated by her perfection.
The 355 is far from terrible, but it’s nowhere near good either. It simply is, and that’s not the place to be with a cast this talented and an ending that sets up more adventures to come — because we all know they won’t be.
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