The 355 (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, wild card CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown will need to join forces with rival badass German agent Marie, former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah, and skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela on a lethal, breakneck mission to retrieve it, while also staying one-step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng, who is tracking their every move.

My Take – On paper, Simon Kinberg‘s second directorial feature, following the franchise killing atrocity known as X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019), sounds like an immediate winner. A Mission: Impossible inspired action thriller led by an all-star female cast consisting of Jessica Chastain (also producer), Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, and Fan Bingbing.

Unfortunately, its translation to screen is nothing but a serious missed opportunity. While the film starts off well with decent energy and a few good sequences, it’s inert script, co-written by Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck (Catwoman), ends up playing spoil sport by devolving into a mess of sluggish clichés, predictable twists, and obvious arcs, all done in a manner that does never matches the caliber of its cast.

Making matters worse is the fact that the action thriller suffocates in its smugness, believing without a shadow of a doubt that it is an empowering story of women persevering in a field dominated by men, all the while as it being drained out by an astonishing collection of spy-film clichés.

Beginning with a Colombia-set prologue in order to introduces us to the film’s MacGuffin, a special decryption program drive that can access any digital system on Earth, the story follows Mason “Mace” Browne (Jessica Chastain), a CIA officer, who is immediately dispatched to Paris with Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan), her CIA colleague, to make a swap with Luis (Edgar Ramírez), a DNI agent, who has offered to sell the drive for $3 million.

However, they’re not alone, leading to an encounter with Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), a rival German BND agent, and the involvement of Graciela Rivera (Penélope Cruz), an office-bound intelligence therapist who’s the only one unaccustomed to hoisting guns around. Forcing Mace to turn to Khadijah Adiyeme (Lupita Nyong’o), a former cyber security expert MI6 agent, for help, and the banding of the four female intelligence officers to track down the device before it falls into wrong hands.

From Paris to London to Morocco, the ladies’ mission traverses the world, with each spot necessitating different types of tactics. Some require guns a’ blazing while others call for formal wear and flirting.

While this one could have turned out to be a fun, globe-trotting caper about smart, tough women with gifts for transformation and subterfuge, the final results suggest that more effort went into crafting a top-flight ensemble than into giving these women characters to play or crafting a spy story that didn’t hit all the obvious plot beats in all the obvious international locations. Along with an execution that feels lumbering and familiar, with characters whose individual traits come off just basic.

Despite donning a super-serious drama coat, the film tries to enjoy every type of espionage cliché to a fault. The film is thus best distinguished by the interplay among the women in lighter moments, with the character of Rivera providing a helpful foundation as a stranger to such adventures worried about surviving to see her kids again.

Sure, the film’s got very few surprises, twists, turns, or feints that lack any punches, with too much foreshadowing that is obvious for people to see. The lack of surprises takes away some of the suspense and mystery that spy thrillers thrive on, and makes some of the other issues I had with the film a little more disappointing.

The action too, though plentiful, is nothing special to rave about. While there are plenty of aspects to pick apart, one element seriously undercuts the film’s acting talent, and that’s the incompetent script from Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck.

Here, director Kinberg tries to blend this stale concept within a feminist story with a well-meaning aim, but a clumsy execution. Without no setup to justify the leap, he calibrates these women’s mission as a unified battle against a misogynist system. But apart from the on-the-nose dialogue around the film’s conclusion he never gestures at any specific misogynist target to be addressed or defeated. He just cloyingly suggests that the mere idea of five women working together is inherently empowering.

Performances wise, Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger get the most hand-to-hand action, and both shine as formidable fighters during strong stunt sequences, with Lupita Nyong’o managing to be the standout with the best written character of the lot.

While Sebastian Stan and Édgar Ramírez play their rather rote roles admirably, both Penélope Cruz and Chinese star Bingbing Fan are mostly wasted here. Cruz‘s character, sadly, feels like the most wasted element here, as the one woman in the bunch with no combat training, while Fan, who’s not only a late addition to the story, but also seems like she filmed little to no scenes with the rest of the cast. On the whole, ‘The 355’ is a lackluster action thriller which wastes its terrific cast and set up.

Directed – Simon Kinberg

Starring – Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Diane Kruger

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 122 minutes

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