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Review: The 355 – “Girls, guns…and more girls”

Violence and feminism are interesting bedfellows, growing a little closer with the arrival of The 355 from Freckle Films (Jessica Chastain’s production company). The 355 is a clear attempt at wrestling the glamour of spycraft out of James Bond’s billion-dollar-earning hands. It’s a fair try, entertaining and expensive-looking, yet it suffers from the same problems that it is trying to solve. Here, the spying and fighting are relentless, provided by an array of famous faces with such disarming beauty it would prevent any of them from actually going undercover.

Chastain stars as Mace, a hard-nosed CIA agent with no ties, paired with long-term work partner Nick, (Sebastian Stan) on a mission to recover a ‘device’ from rogue agent Luis (Edgar Ramirez). The device is…is…a small machine that looks like a phone which can control all technology (it blows up everything). Anyway, that’s not important, what’s important is that the doomsday device macguffin is dangerous. Their op is botched by the hamfisted actions of German spy Marie (Diane Kruger) who also has no ties and no social media presence – which the film goes to great lengths to indicate are the marks of a weirdo – so Mace must enlist Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) who is, you guessed it, a spy, with mad tech skills and a propa Landan accent innit, to help retrieve the drive. Meanwhile, Marie gets to know Graciela (Penelope Cruz) who is a…therapist for spies unceremoniously dragged into this international incident. Because all spy dramas need a bad guy, Jason Flemyng gamely steps in to play a generic Bond villain with excellent diction. And lastly, perhaps to cater to the Asian market, Fan Bingbing appears as Chinese agent Lin Mi who also wants the device. The gang chase each other across numerous continents desperately trying to stop one another from using the device, save the world and bond over first kill stories.

The 355 is utterly ludicrous, and why shouldn’t it be? Long have male protagonists carried ridiculously long-barrelled silenced pistols, thrown themselves off buildings (looking at you, Cruise) and kicked ass while suffering from nary a scrape. The 355 is no different…except it kind of is because the film can’t stop congratulating itself for putting all these women on screen together. The action seems well done, Chastain going one on one with a bald henchman felt almost believable, and the plot had some nice twists and turns, but the dialogue was atrocious, the producers obsessed with hammering home how being a female Bourne is so much harder because women are so giving and thoughtful, which would have been easier to swallow had these same women not been caked in perfect makeup and running in heels. It was briefly fun to see male partners relegated to “when will I see you again?” roles, but this just illustrates how ridiculous it is to put any character on screen whose sole purpose is to fret about the leads. The 355 is at its best when the groups’ personality shines through – Kruger has a great time running amok, Cruz is genuinely moving and Nyong’o is a compelling watch – and leaving all the complaining about relationships and kids to a different genre. Screenwriter Theresa Rebeck and screenwriter/director Simon Kinberg know better than to be this transparent in their agenda.

It’s clear how hard everyone in The 355 has worked to show how a woman could be the next Bond or Bourne, but if Hollywood want action casting to be gender-blind then films should stop constantly referring to gender.

I spy a spy, not a girl or a guy.

The 355 hits cinemas on the 7th January 2022.

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