Despite many attempts, Hollywood just can’t seem to learn how to properly showcase women as leads in action movies. Even the ones that work – a Wonder Woman here, a The Old Guard there – only serve to prove the rule that most action films starring women fail to meet the standards of those featuring men.
To be clear, this is rarely the fault of the actors, who by and large are strong and talented women who give everything they have to their roles. That’s especially true of the four main women starring in The 355 – Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o, Diane Kruger, and Penelope Cruz – who collectively have six Oscar nominations and two wins.
The quartet, along with Chinese actor Bingbing Fan, get into the spy game, with each woman working for her respective country’s top intelligence agency. Though not a team at the beginning, they gradually come together to try to stop the release of a powerful blockchain program that can hack into any closed system in the world.
The film, directed by Simon Kinberg and written by Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck, does the typical continent-hopping fans have come to expect of the genre, going from Colombia to Washington, D.C., Paris, London, Morocco, and Shanghai. Along the way, they lock horns with a gaggle of men whose loyalties seem to be constantly shifting, including ones played by Edgar Ramirez, Sebastian Stan, and others.
The film is held together by the acting ability of the main group, who lend the story some gravitas even when there are elements that might make you roll your eyes. Each of them is required to say some silly things, but because all of them inhabit their roles so well, there’s rarely a moment that the dialogue takes you out of the film.
There are some solid fight scenes, which are surprisingly not overdone or too stylized. The only qualm on this end is that even though there is plenty of action, it is filmed and/or edited in a way that lessens its impact. The PG-13 film is mostly bloodless, giving the impression of violence that they mostly don’t show.
There are a few moments of lip service paid to try to make a few of the women into well-rounded individuals with families/boyfriends, but the scenes feel tacked on. The film also suffers from a lack of a clear villain; shifting loyalties are one thing, but never knowing whom to root against or for just makes things too muddy.
There’s a clear hierarchy to the group, with Chastain and Nyong'o first, followed by Kruger, Cruz, and finally Fan. Still, each woman gets at least a couple of moments to shine, either through words or action. And to the filmmakers’ credit, the group feels like a true team by the end of the film, an aspect that can often be given short shrift.
The 355, whose title meaning is awkwardly explained in the film’s final moments, winds up in the middle of the growing number of female-led action movies. While its action and story are just so-so, it has an enviable cast that might warrant a sequel based on their skills alone.
The 355 opens in theaters on January 7.