When star/producer Jessica Chastain conceived this all-female action movie, she suggested she wanted it to be something like Mission: Impossible or the Bourne series; a film about spies who happen to be women. Thus far, the only major female spy franchise has been Charlie’s Angels, a sexist relic more about pretty women who happen to be spies. If The 355 does not reach the heights of its two touchstone series, it’s still an extremely enjoyable time, with boundless future possibilities. Think less Bourne and more solid Jason Statham flick. That’s about the level of silliness and pure entertainment it hits. And that is no bad thing.
Directed by Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Dark Phoenix), The 355 is packed with unabashed clichés, which it gets away with by never having any pretensions to be more than popcorn viewing. It gives you everything you expect – very enthusiastically – and little challenge. A generic baddie has created a device that gives the owner control over any computer in the world. It can bring down planes, shut down cities, take over mobile phones, all at the click of a button. It makes no sense but it puts the world in peril and every international crime prevention agency in a panic. They all send their best woman to retrieve it.
Mace (Chastain, getting the biggest role, only fair since the film was her idea) is American CIA; Marie (Diane Kruger) is German BND; Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) is British MI-6; Graciela (Penélope Cruz) is Colombian DNI, although she’s a psychiatrist, not a field agent, and would like to go home, please. After a bit of inter-agency argy-bargy, and some light double-crossing, the women team up to stop the end of the world.
The cast punch up a so-so script and throw themselves into some spirited action. Nobody here is phoning it in. Chastain anchors it well, although Kruger (a late addition after the originally cast Marion Cotillard left) is the stand-out. She has a withering way with a putdown and approaches action with a brisk efficiency that has definite shades of Bourne. Cruz is both the story’s heart and, surprisingly, its comedy element. She gets some big laughs by playing it absolutely straight. It’s a canny move to have a cast of comparable star-wattage. So often ‘ensemble’ pieces have a few huge names and cheaper filler, and dole out the best scenes accordingly, but here everyone’s involved at all times.
There are some really duff elements, including some twists so glaringly signposted you have to wonder if they’re even meant to surprise, but the energy of this cast takes the focus off the flaws. A film should always be judged on what it’s trying to achieve and this appears to be aiming to give everyone a really good time, at which it more than succeeds. It has a bit of the feel of early Fast and Furious instalments, when there were a lot of rough edges but the potential was there. And we all know what happened with that franchise.
- Director: Simon Kinberg
- Starring: Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger
- Release date: January 7 (in UK cinemas)