Simon Kinberg is a hugely experienced screenwriter. He provided the scripts for Mr & Mrs Smith, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr version) and four movies in the X-Men series. So he knows his way around an action movie. After making his directorial debut with the flop X-Men: Dark Phoenix, he returns to the director’s chair for the slick action movie, The 355.
This film is clearly intended to kick off a franchise (always a fraught exercise) but Kinberg does a more than capable job with some twisty material from his screenplay co-written with Theresa Rebeck. Although the film has echoes of Mr & Mrs Smith, it feels more like a Mission: Impossible film – sans Tom Cruise of course.
The plot basically follows the McGuffin formula – also known as “There’s a box. Everybody wants the box.” In this case, the “box” is a bit of high-tech kit developed by a Colombian drug lord. The “drive” as it’s known can bypass any encryption, giving whoever has it enormous power – including bringing down planes and blacking out cities. But the cartel’s efforts to sell it to crime lord Elijah Clarke (Jason Flemyng) are interrupted by Colombian special forces, the DNI. Once the bad guys are vanquished, one of the DNI agents, Santiago (Pablo Scola), takes the drive. He also wants to sell it and reaches out to the CIA.
CIA director Marks (John Douglas Thompson) sends Agents Mason (“Mace”) Brown (Jessica Chastain) and Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) to Paris to make the exchange. But BND agent Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger) spoils their plans, and the drive falls into the hands of shadowy forces controlled by Clarke. With the drive slipping away, Mace reaches out to her tech-savvy friend – and MI6 agent – Khadija Adiyeme (Lupita Nyong’o) for help. A second run at the drive in Paris embroils Colombian therapist Graciela Rivera (Penélope Cruz) in the plot – she’s in Paris trying to counsel Santiago. But Clarke’s man escapes with the drive, setting up an international chase for the doomsday device.
The 355 felt very familiar. Its plot is nothing out-of-the-ordinary, and its action sequences – while well staged – also felt a bit ho-hum. A few plot holes also creep in. The exotic locales (ranging from Morocco to Shanghai) and swanky events are pretty standard for this type of film. I also found it a little weird that the younger men in the film all looked quite similar. If Kinberg was making a point (perhaps about objectification?), it passed me by.
Kinberg and Rebeck however add a strong feminist element to the film, which takes it beyond the testosterone-fuelled tropes of the genre. They even throw in a sly dig at James Bond. Where the film excels though is in its depiction of the lead characters as real people with real-world problems; not merely super-agents with no care beyond the next mission.
Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game) – who also serves as a producer – leads the cast with some style as the clever Mace. Lupita Nyong’o (Us) has some nice moments as Khadija, although she spends a lot of time behind a computer. Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) gets to display some range as the charming Nick. Penélope Cruz (Pain and Glory) and Bingbing Fan (I Am Not Madame Bovary) are both sadly underused, and Jason Flemyng (Military Wives) is one-note as the bad guy. But for me, Diane Kruger (In the Fade) streets them all in the acting stakes, finding surprising vulnerability in the flinty character of Marie.
The 355 is one of those movies that doesn’t make a lot of demands. It takes its audience on a glossy, fun escapade, but without a lot of substance. That said, I hope it succeeds as a franchise, because I enjoyed the ride.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television