The 355 (2022)
Director: Simon Kinberg
Writers: Theresa Rebeck and Simon Kinberg
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Edgar Ramirez, and Sebastian Stan
Review: This might be the saddest kind of movie, to be honest. Because The 355 has so much going for it, but completely fails to live up to any of that potential. From what I’ve read online, this is a project led by Jessica Chastain. She came up with the concept and pitched the idea to Simon Kinberg, while they were making Dark Phoenix together. It’s a shame then that she didn’t decide to bring this up to someone, anyone more qualified to make a good movie out of it. She’s worked with so many talented people. Why did it have to be the guy who directed the worst X-Men movie? (Which is really saying something, by the way!)
Here’s the thing about Simon Kinberg. He’s a producer. Since 2005, he’s produced over 20 movies. Some of them are very, very good. He obviously knows what it takes to make a good movie. However, I don’t think he has the eye to make a good director. Both of his efforts, this and Dark Phoenix, have just been terribly bland. There’s no filter, no interesting camera angles, nothing. It just feels like he’s filming what’s going on in front of him and that’s it. We need a little pizzaz. On top of that, the only way he seems to be able to direct action sequences is to film them with extreme shaky cam, close-ups, and an overabundance of cuts. Honestly, the action scenes in this movie are extremely disorienting and almost gave me motion sickness on more than one occasion. There was one cool moment where a fight scene was only lit by the flashes of gunfire, which was pretty cool but something we’ve seen before. Other than that, I definitely was never super impressed with anything Kinberg threw at us.
But, here’s the thing, the writing did him no favors either. This is about as straightforward of a spy film as spy films get. The plot is that these women from all over the world are teaming up because a terrorist organization is selling a piece of tech that can hack into and shut down all devices hooked to the internet. Meanwhile, their superiors aren’t doing anything because they are corrupt, so they’ve got to go at it on their own. I’m sorry, but this plot is dated as hell, right? Like, we’d expect to see this in a late Brosnan-era Bond film, not something from Craig or whoever follows him. Like, it’s not as innovative or scary as the writers of The 355 seem to think it is. Yes. This technology is scary because we over-rely on tech, but this isn’t the first time a concept like that has been thrown around. And, “this agency is corrupt so I’ve got to do it myself” is the plot of 95% of the spy movies released in the last 20 years. I’m not saying that every spy movie should be completely original. I don’t think that’s possible. But, don’t be bland in your writing or directing! That’s almost impossible to come back from.
I’ve got to give them credit though. The leads tried their hardest to make this bland flick watchable. But, then again, looking at this cast, how could they not? These are top-tier actors who bring their A-game to everything they touch, even when it’s a C-tier movie. Chastain and Kruger are especially highlights, as spies who kick a ton of ass but are also always deeply vulnerable and flawed. In a more fair world, I could see their characters leading a franchise for several movies. Also knocking it out of the park was Cruz, as an agency therapist who just happened to be dragged into this. We’ve seen the kind of quirky, scared citizen dragged into an extreme situation by badasses before, but I’m not sure one has ever had as much heart as Cruz’s character. There is a scene where people she cares deeply about are put into the line of fire and Cruz portrays that heartbreak perfectly. That scene is probably only one of two truly memorable moments in this movie and a big part of that credit goes to her. And, of course, Nyong’o brings class and grace to her hacker role, as always. Honestly, the only weak point of the cast is Bingbing. She comes in later in the movie and kind of kills the chemistry of the group. It felt like throwing another member into the Beatles. A very stiff, unemotional, non-charismatic fifth member. Honestly, I don’t know why this character exists since she just serves to make the movie even that much blander.
But, in all honesty, for the majority of its runtime, I didn’t hate The 355. I don’t know if I would’ve recommended it, but the cast made it at least bearable. And, I truly appreciated how the movie never talked down to you. It was never pandering. Sure. It featured kick-ass women, but they were spies who just happened to be women. They never made a big deal about it. There’s not an Avengers: Endgame “she’s not alone” moment here. That is until the very last moments. After most of the plot has wrapped up, there is this “2 months later” epilogue and it has a completely different tone than the rest of the movie. It’s so on the nose. I don’t know if there was originally a different ending and it had to change because of focus groups or studio interference or something. But, god, I hated this ending. It felt tacked on and unnecessary. Like someone missed the point and needed it spelled out for them. I’m a firm believer that a bad ending can ruin a good movie, so you can only imagine what it does to a barely serviceable one.
Overall, I’d say that The 355 is entirely skippable. It’s far from the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but there’s not much that super stands out here either. I wish Chastain had pitched this to almost anyone else because the concept of these four women teaming up as super-spies sounds super appealing. I understand how this movie got made. I just don’t understand why they gave it the blandest possible treatment. With even just the smallest amount of spice, this could’ve been something special. Oh well. These things happen I guess. I just hope that studios catch on before another awesome concept goes to waste.
TL;DR: Despite a killer cast giving it their all, The 355 is about as uninspired as a spy thriller can get.
Score: 5/10 (Meh.)