Directed by. Simon Kinberg
Although it is not as headache-inducing or banally manufactured as Netflix’s Red Notice, Kinberg’s The 355 is jejune drab. It shows us once again that having lots of A-listers in your cast doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t have anything of substance to showcase for it.
The 355, which gets its title from the secret codename of the first female spy during the American Revolution, centers around CIA agent Mason Brown (Jessica Chastain), who joins forces with a group of women with a particular set of skills when a top-secret weapon falls into the wrong hands. Together, they go on a global chase to save the world; however, a mysterious figure tracks every single one of their moves. Will they be able to save the world? Who is this mysterious figure? These are the questions one should be asking themselves during a spy thriller. But, instead, you are asking “how much time is left” and “haven’t I seen this before”.
The month of January is a time where many movie studios dump out the films that they don’t have much faith in. Nevertheless, I still had the feeling The 355 could surprise people (to some extent), primarily because of the cast attached to it. Something had to attract Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, and company to this spy flick. Unfortunately, the January blockbuster curse remains afoot, and it is indeed a film that didn’t stand much of a chance. It checks all the boxes to be a great misfortune, from poor action sequences with a head-scratching plot to narrow character development and worryingly obvious plot twists. The trials and tribulations of the director at the helm, Simon Kinberg, are all over the film, which is something troubling.
Why? Because he has helped deliver some of the dullest action “blockbusters” in the past couple of years (Let’s Be Cops, Fant4stic, This Means War, among others). The producer-turned-director made his directorial debut with the Dark Phoenix, the worst installment in the X-Men franchise, in my opinion, and showed us that he didn’t have much proficiency when it comes to action set pieces. When you start thinking about his “oeuvre”, your initial worries turn into massive and crucial concerns over the project. Kinberg wants this to be his James Bond, Jason Bourne, or Mission Impossible, with all the shifting identities, revenge plots, offscreen deaths, and worldwide traveling shenanigans. Still, we’re being fed a below surface-level and mediocre action “romp” with a manifold of action tropes being thrown left and right, making you think about all the other films you’d rather be watching instead.
It’s most unfortunate to see such because the actresses attached deserve way better material to work with; their talents feel wasted. Penelope Cruz, who delivered one of her best performances to date with Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers, and Lupita Nyong’o are stuck with such a baffling script. These ladies are some of the most talented actresses working today, albeit the mighty hand of Kinberg strikes their acting heftiness down with one of the least clever spy narratives in recent memory (Johnny English-esque scenarios). With zero to no originality and rigidity, The 355 comes and goes, and yet, it still dares to set itself up as yet another possible series of lousy cappers. After watching this and comparing it to Dark Phoenix, you could say that the latter has way more “exciting” set pieces and contains more tension in its storyline.