The 355 (2022) Review
A DERIVATE AND SHALLOW SPY ENDEAVOR
Spy movies are an acquired taste and a special brand of cinematic excitement all in their own respective class. Dashing agents in impeccable attires, with a plethora of high-tech gadgets and gizmos at their disposal, and crazy hair-raising antics to save the world from a global threat. It’s the classic spy theatricals that have made the “bread and butter” of the genre, with iconic series like James Bond, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Mission Impossible that helped sell those attributes to its fullest extent. Over the years, much like a lot of film genres, the core mechanics of spy movies has been tweaked and brough up the modern times for visual aesthetics and narrative storytelling that adheres and speaks to today’s world. Feature films such as The Bourne franchise, Taken, Atomic Blonde, and The Kingsman: The Golden Circle provide a large-than-life espionage cinematics escapades, while movies like Bridge of Spies, The Courier, Zero Dark Thirty, and Argo take inspiration from real-life events to let their inter-workings of spy prose and nuances take shape. Now, Universal Pictures and director Simon Kinberg present the latest offering of the spy thriller genre, with the release of the film titled The 355. Does this newest entry in the espionage spy action realm shine bright and hit hard with its theatricals or is it just a “run-of-the-mill” project that never finds a proper footing to stand on?
Deep within Columbia, DNI agent Luis Rojas (Edgar Ramirez) has intercepted up a potential sale of a special drive that contains the technology to infiltrate and disable any cybersecurity defense, exposing the world to catastrophic disaster. Looking to sell the item, Luis is approached by DNI psychologist Graciela Rivera (Penelope Cruz), who is a familiar face and tries to make sense of what is going on. Sent to stop any transaction of the drive from happening, CIA agent Mason “Mace” Browne (Jessica Chastain) travels to Paris, with fellow agent Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan), learning that the German BND agent Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger) is tasked with collecting the prize. When everything goes sideways and betrayals are brought forward, the women, later joined by British MI6 agent Khadijah Adiyeme (Lupita Nyong’o), elect to form a team to acquire the drive by themselves, eventually encountering Chinese MSS agent Fan Bingbing), who’s one step ahead of the group as they set out to advert a global doomsday. dd
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I will admit…. while not one of my top film genres to enjoy…..I do like a good spy movie. As I stated above, the genre has certainly been around for quite some time in Hollywood, with a variety of feature films tackling the spy narrative both classic and modern aesthetics and nuances. Of course, when the word spy comes to mind…. I always think of James Bond and the wide variety of movie installments that the franchise has to offer. It was probably my first really introduction to the whole “spy” subgenre and I do like how the film franchise has evolved slightly and endured the changes of filmmaking over the decades. Of course, spy movies (nowadays) have a little bit more “grit” to them. Cinematic narratives of today’s world showcase a bit more modern-style touches of more intense action and cyber security. Films like Black Hat, The Sum of All Fears, and The Bourne series are some prime examples. Even more to the point, a much heftier supply of “based on a true story” narrative have been found, with a touch more sense of realism being presented in an espionage tale of spy-nuances. Movies like Zero Dark Thirty, The Courier, and Bridge of Spies are some good ones that I would recommend of that category. In the end, I think that spy film subgenre has a special niche area that ultimately works, with viewers wanting to be taking on a journey of espionage of various spy super sleuthing, tech gadgets, government infiltration, and heroics to save the world; elements that will never get old watching.
This brings me back to talking about The 355, a 2022 action movie and the latest spy flick endeavor. In all honesty, I really didn’t hear much about this movie until late December of 2021. With my work schedule starting to go back to normal after the holiday season, I started to play “catch up” on several 2021 movies that I needed to watch / review before I moved onto seeing / reviewing 2022 films. The 355 came on my radar as one of the first movies of the 2022 releases as it debuted in theaters towards the beginning of January 2022. I hadn’t seeing the movie trailer for the project, but I knew that it was a bout a group of women in a spy-action feature. Beyond that…. I really didn’t know much about it. Even today…after reviewing the film…. I still haven’t watched the film’s movie trailer. To be even more honest, I actually never even saw the movie trailer for The 355 during anytime that I went to the movie theaters during the past several months. Kind of strange. Still, I did like the film’s cast, which consisted of Chastain, Kruger, Cruz, Nyong’o, and a few others. So, I would give the movie a chance, but I didn’t get a chance to see it until February…when The 355 was released on home / digital release (a very fast turn around from a theatrical release date). Thus, I watched the movie in the comfort of my home and what did I think of it? Well, I was disappointed with it. Despite several vague moving parts, a good presentation, and a relatively decent cast, The 355 ends up being generically bland spy action that is hampered by a messy execution and lackluster nuances. It’s not completely deplorable…. just totally forgettable and uninspiring.
The 355 is directed by Simon Kinberg, whose previous directorial works include X-Men: Dark Phoenix, while mostly known for his writing / producing for projects like The Martian, Sherlock Holmes, and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Given his familiarity with superhero movies and / or big tentpole, Kinberg seems like a somewhat suitable choice for directing a project like this, especially one with a lot of moving parts (characters, motivations, story) and leading acting talents involved. Interestingly, The 355 is Kinberg’s sophomore directorial feature and I do have to say that it is better and more cohesive than X-Men: Dark Phoenix. In truth, Kinberg stands upon better footing, finding The 355 having an interesting view point of a women leading cast playing the central roles within the narrative structure of a spy-action flick. Of course, some might criticize the feature for being “too woke” and speaks to the modern age of viewing female protagonist characters. However, the movie never intrudes on such “eye-rolling” inducing moments, with Kinberg keeping the so-called “girl power” kept to a manageable level. As a whole, the movie definitely speaks to a good interest of spy-action for the modern age, including chase sequences, gun shootouts, and espionage workings within nation’s agencies. Overall, I think that Kinberg did a decent job in shaping The 355 that, while having some glaring problems (more on that below), delivers a central spy-action feature movie that might entice some viewers to check this out….for better or worse.
For what it is worth, The 355’s presentation is pretty good and is something that I would expect from a modern day spy-action endeavor. There is definitely a globe-trotting adventure throughout the movie’s narrative progression, with the feature being filmed in a variety of areas, including Paris, Morocco, and London. Thus, the European landscape certainly provides a type of flavor to the picture for an international spy adventure throughout. Plus, a lot of the film’s “behind the scenes” key players, including Simon Elliot (production design), Anna Lynch-Robinson (set decorations), and Stephanie Collie (costume designs) do some good work in making the film’s background visual aesthetic appealing. The cinematography work by Tim Maurice-Jones in the movie is relatively good. Nothing grand or really engaging, but still quite effective throughout the entire feature. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg), is pretty good for a spy-action endeavor. It’s not the strongest that Holkenborg’s musical composition of late (I still love his soundtrack of Zack Snyder’s Justice League), but it gets the job done and works for what the movie calls for.
Unfortunately, the movie is terribly bland right from the get-go and never stands on its own merits; finding The 355 having several issues and glaring criticisms throughout. How so and where? Well, pretty much through the entire film. Perhaps the biggest point of criticism would definitely have to be the derivate narrative that the film’s story tries to present. The film’s beginning twenty or so minutes is decent enough and sets the stage for the feature’s main plot. However, the rest of the feature is a jumbled mess, with equally sum parts of familiar tropes and cliches from a wide variety of other (sometimes far superior) spy action films out there. Given Hollywood’s “deep dive” into espionage world throughout the decades, the spy subgenre has been saturated, greatly; finding it difficult for directors / filmmakers to carve out a new slice of creativeness. This is the problem with The 355, for the movie never finds the proper footing to bring anything new to the spy-action espionage world and ends up being just a generic adventure from most of the picture. Elements from other properties, including James Bond, Mission Impossible, Jason Bourne, Domino, Atomic Blonde, Salt, and a few others, are present in the feature and feel like knock-off imitations of them. There is no way around it, which causes the movie to suffer from following a proven familiar path and makes The 355 predictable and formulaic to the touch.
Part of this reason lies within Kinberg’s direction, which never truly gives the feature the right amount of extra “oomph” of that is needed. He keeps everything at a sort “even keel” and never colors outside the lines of standard spy-action fanfare; demonstrating the derivate nature of the feature to a fault. Because of this, The 355 feels hollow or rather I should say shallow for most of its runtime; offering little creative energy in the direction of the movie, with little to no ways of interjecting new / creative ideas. To make matters even worse, the film’s becomes increasingly more jumbled and messy as narrative moves forward, resulting in the feature loosing focus and becoming a bit aimless towards the latter half. The movie’s action pieces, while executed properly, are too few and far between to make good on the promise of the spy-action movie, especially since most are quite generic right from the off. Even the film’s climatic third act feels quite rushed as if Kinberg is trying to hurry events along and trying to wrap everything up by making everything hurried and a bit bland. As it stands, it seems that Kinberg is ill-equipped to helm such a project like this and, much like what he did on X-Men: Dark Phoenix, proves that he can’t handle a film such as The 355. Perhaps if another director worked on the film with him (as a co-director), the project would’ve been better. However, as it stands, The 355 is lacking in the director’s approach of filmmaking nuances and creative guile.
Another big component in the movie’s derivate nature is found within the script, which was penned by Kinberg as well as Theresa Rebeck. Like the feature’s lackluster direction, the film’s script / story handling is shaped in a way that’s executed rather generically as well as being clunky throughout. There’s very little excitement in the story being told, which (again) feels quite bland and kind of “meh”. Plot points are formulaic and dull, twists are foreseeable before happening, and the lackluster narrative is quite derivate. Basically….” meh” is a best way to describe the entire film endeavor as the story of The 355 has whole lot of “been there, done that” familiarity and never comes into its own, leaving the feature bland and pretty vanilla spy-action movie.
Perhaps one of the strongest saving graces that the feature has going for it is the ensemble cast that was selected to play the film’s various characters. However, while the acting talents collected are recognizable / likeable from their previous film roles, their respective characters are, much like movie itself, are derivate and generic to the touch. Leading the charge and headlining the picture is actress Jessica Chastain as the central protagonist character of Mason “Mace” Browne, a CIA agent who is always ready to prove her worth in the field. Known for her roles in Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty, and Molly’s Game, Chastain has certainly made a name for herself over these past few years in whatever capacity (lead or supporting) role that is called upon. Heck, it was even her idea to come up with The 355 while she and Kinberg were working on X-Men: Dark Phoenix. So, in a way, the movie exists because of Chastain. With that being said, it’s sad that Chastain ends up being one of the least interesting character in the entire film. Of course, Chastain has the screen presence, and her acting is perfectly fine, but her character of Mace doesn’t really amount to much. It’s sort like a textbook CIA agent that goes on a mission, said mission goes sideways, and then revenge mission takes place. It’s all pretty derivate and there’s really no growth to her character; making Chastain’s Mace very dull and nothing creatively original.
Who actually fares the best (of the leading women characters) is actress Diane Kruger, who plays the role of Marie Schmidt, a determined German BND agent. Known for her roles in National Treasure, Troy, and Inglorious Basterds, Kruger hasn’t been much in the recent years, but her credibility of her career is widely known (loved her in Inglorious Basterds). So, her presence in The 355 is greatly appreciated and I did like her in the film. Like most of the movie, however, her character of Marie is pretty derivate and generic, yet she (all of the entire female leads) as the most material to play around with; finding Kruger to be the most memorable. Other two female leads, actresses Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther and Us) and Penelope Cruz (Volver and Vanilla Sky) play the other female characters in The 355, with characters of former MI6 agent Khadijah Adiyeme and DNI agent / psychologist Graciela Rivera respectfully. Both Nyong’o and Cruz are strong actresses in their past endeavor, so their screen presence is surely fit in The 355. That being said, there characters are vaguely the same and have a close attachment to love interest / family members and merely side-characters as the high-tech genius and novice field agent. Lastly, actress Fan Bingbing (X-Men: Days of Futures Past and The King’s Daughter) gets the least amount of screen-time in the movie and ends up being the weakest character of the female leads. Bingbing does what she can with the role, but her acting talents can only the character of MSS agent Lin Mi Sheng so far. Basically, her character feels like an afterthought and nothing more, which is disappointing.
Other important supporting players in the film such as actors Sebastian Stan (Captain America: Civil War and The Last Full Measure) and Edgar Ramirez (Point Break and The Jungle Cruise) are decent in their respective roles of as CIA agent / Mace’s collegiate partner Nick Fowler and DNI agent Luis Rojas, but the movie never allows these particular acting talents make their mark on them as the narrative limits them by design, which is sort of waste of characters and of the actors themselves. Also, I do have to say that the character of Elijah Clarke, the masterminding crime lord who wants the drive for global domination, is a pretty straightforward and generic bad guy. Actor Jason Flemyng (Jamestown and Clash of the Titans) does what he can with the material to make the Clarke somewhat decent, but then that fails as what’s presented is more of a “cookie cutter” baddie and nothing else.
The rest of the cast, including actor Sylvester Groth (Inglorious Basterds and Stalingrad) as Marie’s superior at the BND Jonas Muller, actor Raphel Acloque (Allied and Mission Impossible: Fallout) as Khadijah’s lover Abdel, actor John Douglas Thompson (Mare of Eastown and The Gilded Age) as Mace and Nick’s superior at the CIA Larry Marks, actor Leo Starr (Call the Midwife and Maigret) as CIA agent Grady, and actor Oleg Kricunova (The Zone and Sabaki) as Pyotr Khasanov, fill out the rest of the film’s players in the minor supporting cast. Most of these acting talents are fine in their respective roles…. even though the movie doesn’t give much time for them to make their characters memorable. However, I really didn’t expect these characters to be well-rounded or anything like that. So, it all kind of breaks even for me.
In a covert spy world of who to trust and who not to, an unlikely group bans together to save the world from falling into chaos in the movie The 355. Director Simon Kinberg latest film takes a stab at the action spy realm, presenting a tale of espionage, double-crossing, and intrigue to layer a narrative in dubious trickery. Unfortunately, while the film’s cast is relatively strong, an effective presentation, and a few pieces and moving parts, the movie itself is riddled with glaring points of criticism, especially in the derivate narrative, a bland script, lackluster action, rudimentary twists and turns, and unmemorable characters. Personally, the movie was “meh” to me. The picture had all the right ingredients for something special, but never delivers on that promise and ends up being just another generic and bland spy flick. The cast is great, but that’s the only really good thing that I really liked about the movie. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “skip it” as the project isn’t strong enough to warrant a look…even if you are a fan of the cast. Basically, if one is interested in the movie, wait a year and half for it to come out on television, for I’m sure that it will be on a channel or two in the foreseeable future. The ending of the feature leaves the door open for a possible sequel endeavor, but, giving how the movie’s reception has been, it seems that possibility seems unlikely. In the end, The 355 winds up being a shallow and derivate spy action movie that has little to differentiate itself from similar projects; cultivating a lukewarm narrative with a messy execution and just plainly forgettable.
2.3 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: January 6th, 2021
Reviewed On: February 26th, 2022
The 355 is 124 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material