“The 355” stars Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Sebastian Stan, and Édgar Ramírez. Released on January 7, 2022, the film has a team of female agents saving the world from a terrorist organization.
The film was directed by Simon Kinberg, who also directed "Dark Phoenix" and wrote several films like "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", "Jumper", "Sherlock Holmes", and "X-Men: Days of Future Past". Do you remember when I started 2021 with an action-packed movie instead of a cruddy horror film? It was a great change of pace for me. So how about we do it again this year with another nail-biting, gut-punching extravaganza? The first film of 2022 I'll be looking at today unites several big-name actresses for a new spy adventure that'll get several people in their seats. More importantly, it marks the latest movie to be directed by Simon Kinberg, who is well-known for his writing in terms of the action genre. Unfortunately, his directing skills weren't as hard-hitting as the action as his directorial debut, "Dark Phoenix", brought the X-Men franchise to an underwhelming and messy close. While I did appreciate the team for giving the "Dark Phoenix Saga" another chance, I can also admit that the overall execution failed to erase their previous misstep in "X-Men: The Last Stand". Kinberg now seeks to redeem himself with his sophomore film that has no relation to Marvel's mutant team. Was he able to accomplish that goal with this latest spy movie? Let's find out.
The story follows Mason Browne (Chastain), a wild card CIA officer. She and her colleague, Nick Fowler (Stan), are tasked to retrieve a dangerous device capable of controlling technology. When the device fell into the wrong hands, and Nick is killed in action, Browne will have to join forces with other agents from different organizations that have the same agenda: Khadijah Adiyeme (Nyong'o) from MI6, Marie Schmidt (Kruger) from BND, Graciela Rivera (Cruz) from DNI, and Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing) from MSS. They would have to trust each other to prevent the bad guys from using the device to start World War III. Interestingly, this film was named after Agent 355, a codename of a female spy for the Patriots during the American Revolution. So I guess you can say that the film showcases the characters continuing Agent 355's legacy of protecting the United States. Now, I wasn't expecting an in-depth examination of the codename and its history amid its high-octane action scenes because that would be boring. A film like this just needs to be a fun popcorn spy film that happens to have an impressive cast and international locations. I mean, let's face it, in situations like this, we always need some escapism in our lives. For the most part, "The 355" offered enough material to earn that classification. Although, that doesn't make the film suitable to stand alongside the other female-led action films that came before it. Aside from a few twists and suspenseful moments, the film didn't deliver anything too special in its formula regarding the direction and screenplay. It's a generic, by-the-numbers spy thriller that showcased female empowerment in the genre yet faltered in its emotional and gripping concept. Simon Kinberg is the type of person who understands the process of entertaining his audience but struggles to provide a worthy storyline to please everyone. There were a couple of instances that could've worked well in his favor, especially with the characters and themes, but sadly, the formula cliches and flat execution squandered them. "The 355" is no exception as it saw Kinberg struggling to balance its character depth and messages about trust with its formulaic narrative. From Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck's subpar script to the film's one-dimensional antagonist, "The 355" is equivalent to a fizzy drink. It's got a lively taste when you first drink it but slowly loses its flavor as you continue to chug it down. However, the film had a couple of elements that I enjoyed more than others, including the cast. The main female leads did a respectable job carrying the plot forward amid the violence with their performances and chemistry. While not as electrifying as the action sequences, they did put a noticeable effort in making me care for the characters a bit, especially Nyong'o and Cruz as Khadijah and Graciela, respectively. Jessica Chastain was also decent in her central role as Mason Browne, and Sebastian Stan did fine with his performance as Nick despite his character being forgettable. As for the action scenes, they're nothing that will blow people's minds like "Shang-Chi" or "John Wick" quality-wise, but they're watchable regardless. The only minor issue with them was the film's predictable uses of shaky-cam maneuvers and quick cuts in a few sequences. Kinberg may be a man with a thirst for people punching and shooting each other, but he's far from someone with a unique taste in action cinematography.
Overall, "The 355" has its moments regarding its entertainment values and cast. Unfortunately, they're not enough to shoot its way past its generically bland presentation. While it works as a popcorn film you would watch on a weekend afternoon, the film sadly didn't have the right skill set to qualify as the world's top spy. With its cliched formula, Kinberg's subpar direction, average screenplay, and mediocre characters, the film marks a pretty rough start of the new year regarding the action genre. It's also a surefire sign that Simon Kinberg still has plenty of work to do to get people to take him seriously as a director. If you don't care that much about the plot and want a piece of action-packed escapism, you should be fine watching this film. Otherwise, you're better off waiting for the next "Mission: Impossible" movie.