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Review: ‘The 355’ is a Lackluster Attempt at Reinventing the Spy Thriller Genre

January 12, 2022Ben MK

Over the years, there have been numerous attempts at shaking up the tried-and-true Hollywood spy thriller formula, from Tom Cruise's death-defying stunts in the Mission: Impossible franchise to Matt Damon's struggle with amnesia and his battle to expose sinister government conspiracies in the Bourne movies. Now, it's Simon Kinberg's turn. And in The 355, the producer-turned-director is turning his attention from super-powered mutants and futuristic sci-fi storylines to a contemporary tale about a group of women out to save the world from a dangerous terrorist threat. But does this espionage-themed twist on Ocean's Eight have what it takes to stir up the excitement of moviegoing audiences?

In some ways, it's an angle that has already been covered by Marvel's Black Widow. However, that doesn't stop Kinberg from recruiting Jessica Chastain to front his all-female team of protagonists. As CIA agent Mason "Mace" Brown, Chastain plays a woman always eager to prove herself to her male counterparts. So when her boss (John Douglas Thompson) informs her and her best friend and fellow agent Nick (Sebastian Stan) that they'll be headed to France on a mission to thwart the black market sale of a high-tech hacking device by a corrupt Colombian law enforcement official (Edgar Ramírez), Mace doesn't waste any time packing her bags for the trip. However, after the job goes sideways and Nick is seemingly killed in the line of duty, she finds herself struggling to pick up the pieces. Looking for revenge and intent on recovering the device before underworld criminal mastermind Elijah Clarke (Jason Flemyng) can use it to wreak global havoc, Mace sets about assembling a crew of her own.

Enter tech expert and former MI6 field agent Khadijah (Lupita Nyong'o), Mace's old friend and the first person she approaches to join her elite squad. The pair are soon joined by German intelligence operative Marie (Diane Kruger) and Colombian therapist Graciela (Penélope Cruz), and together this foursome of femme fatales journey from Europe to Morocco, and finally to Shanghai, where they pick up the final member of their outfit, Chinese spy Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing). What follows makes an earnest attempt to distinguish itself from its counterparts by eschewing the male perspective that typically dominates such genre fare in favor of the opposite sex's point of view. Yet, despite the diversity of the film's cast and its high ambitions, The 355 doesn't so much reinvent the genre as it does end up falling victim to the very tropes and clichés it's supposed to be upending.

From the shaky-cam action sequences to the cookie-cutter villain and his uninspired plot to terrorize the citizens of the free world, it's as if Kinberg and co-writer Theresa Rebeck studied the past two decades' worth of espionage action and then deliberately chose to use only the most generic elements from each of them, resulting in a movie that's ultimately as forgettable as it familiar. Suffice to say, those hoping that The 355 would inspire a new wave of female-led ensemble blockbusters might be sorely disappointed, as the film barely manages to maintain its own momentum. Instead, what starts out as a fairly promising riff on the spy thrillers of old eventually sputters out into a pastiche of stale storytelling techniques and regurgitated set pieces, all culminating in a message that feels more like finger-wagging and less like the fist-pumping rally cry of empowerment it was clearly meant to be.

Still, the result isn't totally without merit. After all, it's impossible to dismiss any movie that aims to promote gender equality. And while The 355 may fall short of expectations, there's still something to be admired about the fact that it exists in the first place. Nonetheless, while the concept may have worked wonders on the page, its execution on-screen is lackluster. So although it may be positioning itself as an alternative to its male-dominated competition, one can rest assured that the likes of James Bond and Ethan Hunt aren't going anywhere any time soon.

The 355 releases January 7th, 2022 from eOne Films. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 2 min.

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