As concepts go, The 355 has all the makings of a great spy thriller – five international agents, each with a different skillset, are forced to go rogue and team up after they cross paths during a mission to stop a dangerous new weapon falling into the wrong hands. Taking said-concept, screenwriter Theresa Rebeck (Smash) and co-writer/director Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) manage to work it into a perfectly serviceable action movie, one that provides a perfect showcase for each of its five leads. Unfortunately, the end result is a rather mish-mash affair that, whilst never dull, never really feels that exciting either.
Key to The 355‘s lack of exhilaration are two main aspects – the rather predictable plot developments and the so-so action scenes. The latter is especially involving, the fight scenes regularly plagued by unnecessary shaky cam and offering little that we haven’t seen done before in countless Bond and Bourne movies. For the larger set pieces, Kinberg displays occasional moments of flair in the staging and choreography, but nothing ever feels as slick as it clearly wants to be and none of the action sequences feel particularly memorable. The plot itself is never that interesting either, even when it does throw in a few predictable twists in regards to the villain’s motives (which anyone will surely see coming a mile off). It’s also disappointing to see key characters like Fan Bingbing‘s brilliant Lin Mi Sheng introduced so late into the film, especially when her character is such an intriguing and key aspect of the movie.
However, whilst the film falters in regards to plot and action, it more than makes up for these aspects in terms of its characters. The five leading ladies are all superb – their characters are distinctive, their dynamics are engaging and each of them is given a decent amount to do, despite some getting less screen time than others. Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger (as CIA Officer Mace and BND Agent Marie respectively) spark off one another throughout and their antagonistic relationship extremely entertaining, whilst Lupita Nyong’o brings plenty of heart to the film in her role as retired MI6 computer expert Khadijah. However, it’s Penélope Cruz who steals the show as Colombian DNI psychologist Graciela. A character very much out of her depth in the espionage and action department, her character’s presence ups the stakes considerably and provides plenty of prime moments for both humour and tension throughout the film.
It’s also refreshing to see a film with five strong female leads just get on with it and not toot its own horn too much in regards to its central selling point. The film is empowering and feminist, but it also thankfully avoids the usual cringey ‘girl power’ gags and knowing speeches that one usually comes across in recent female led action films. There’s no “look at us, we’re feminist baby” moments. Instead, The 355 simply concentrates on rounding out the characters and throwing them into an action packed adventure, just like any similar male-led movie would.
Despite this though, The 355 lacks the style and substance that makes a truly great action movie. The action here is paint-by-numbers (as is the plot), and whilst the stunts and choreography are decent enough, neither is shot or cut together in a way that demands the audience sit up and drink it in. The characters and the performances are superb and go some way in regards to elevating proceedings. But unfortunately the film never really lives up to its excellent premise, and the end result is, like the protagonists and their shaky alliance, an uneven hodgepodge when all is said and done.