-by Justin Nordell
During the pandemic I’ve been keeping my vaccine card in my passport because a) they’re too damn big to fit in a wallet and b) it makes me feel like I’m actually going places when I leave my home, since I haven’t been able to truly use my passport since 2019. The irony that I showed my passport to get into a screening of the latest action spectacle to hit Philadelphia theaters, The 355, isn’t lost on me as the film took me to over a half dozen cities in its two hour runtime. Legend has it that star/producer Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) pitched a film to director Simon Kinberg while working together on X-Men Dark Phoenix as a Mission Impossible-esque spy film with a full female lead cast, and thus The 355 was born.
Opening in the jungles of Columbia, bad guy #1 is trying to sell bad guy #2 a drive that is the ultimate hacking device, able to get into literally any system in the entire internet – be it to blackout entire cities, reroute millions of dollars, or cause every plane in the sky to malfunction and crash. This is some scary world ending technology that can cripple entire governement with the click of a keyboard… aka standard spy fare. The deal goes south quickly, worsened by the fact that Colombian SWAT, thinking it was a drug deal, come in to bust the exchange. A SWAT member (Edgar Ramírez, Jungle Cruise) swipes the device and beelines to Paris in an attempt to sell the drive to foreign agencies for a huge payday. CIA agents Mason “Mace” Brown (Chastain) and Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) head to Paris to broker a deal for the device to ensure technology this powerful never ends up in the wrong hands… but of course that doesn’t happen, as German agent Marie (Diane Kruger, Inglorious Bastards) fouls the trade off and splits up our two agents.
Alone, Mace enlists retired British MI-6 agent and tech expert Khadijah (Lupita Nyongo, Us) to aid in recovery. Tracking down the seller in Paris, his own Columbian government have sent psychologist Graciela (Penelope Cruz, Volver) and a team of soldiers to escort him home. Seeing this as her second chance, Mace plans an ambush only to be distracted again by Marie in a knock down, drag out banger of a use-everything-around-you-as-a-weapon fight. After failing to secure the drive again, our four femme fatales decide to team up, risking their lives as they globetrot to Morocco and then Shanghai, where they pick up Chinese agent Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing, X-Men: Days of Future Past), and blow off their respective agencies to save the world and shoot a few hundred guns for good measure.
The cornerstone of most testosterone fueled spy thrillers is the action and fight choreography, and The 355 goes out of its way to show that these women can throw down just as heavily as their male counterparts. The fists and bullets fly faster than the one-liners and costume changes (the wig budget alone must’ve been in the millions), as the easy breezy beautiful film flies by. While never as groundbreaking as it thinks it is (an auction house heist resembles Ocean 8’s Met Gala more than anyone probably intended), The 355 takes genre outlines and provides what few other films in this genre lately have been able to do: make a solid, entertaining film. This is popcorn action cinema through and through – it’s not great and is way over edited (blame the sophomore director), but it’s good fun.
The 355, named for the codename of a female revolutionary war spy, attempts to break new ground in spy thrillers from Chastain’s original genre gender bend pitch and it succeeds. Having five award-winning actresses front and center who are genuinely giving the horrifically generic script more than it deserves at all times, elevates the material to a highly watchable good time. Look, you won’t need your secret decoder ring to solve any of the secrets in this predictable spy thriller, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining- which is exactly the type of film so many of us need right now.
In theaters January 7 and streaming on Peacock Plus February 14