Director – Simon Kinberg – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 124m
Five female agents from different national security agencies team up to prevent a deadly new cyber-weapon falling into the wrong hands – out in cinemas on Friday, January 7th
An illegal deal is going down 150 miles south of Bogotá, Columbia. A ruthless and powerful mercenary (Jason Flemyng) will stop at nothing to get hold of a deadly new cyber-weapon – a hand-sized device which is capable of accessing and utilising any other computer control system and that can be plugged into a laptop. However, things don’t go according to plan when the sellers’ mansion is raided by Colombia’s Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia (DNI) and the cyber-weapon taken by operative Luis (Édgar Ramirez) who pans to sell it on and vanish with the money.
Posing as a married couple, CIA operatives Nick (Sebastian Stan) and Mace (Jessica Chastain) are sent to Paris, France to rendezvous with Luis and buy the cyber-weapon off him. In their temporary apartment, Nick unexpectedly kisses her and they sleep together, but later he is fatally shot when the operation goes wrong because an operative of the German national security organisation the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BDN) Marie (Diane Kruger) snatches the bag. Mace, in hot pursuit through the tunnels of the Paris Metro, fails to get it back.
In London, Mace recruits MI6 cyber warfare expert Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) and when DNI psychologist Graciela (Penélope Cruz) turns up, a Mexican standoff between the four agency’s women swiftly changes into an alliance to retrieve the cyber weapon. China is also interested in the weapon, in the form of Li Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan, the high profile Chinese actress who in real life mysteriously disappeared for six months in 2018 following accusations of tax fraud).
The group eventually name themselves the 355 after the real-life, unnamed female operative known as 355 on George Washington’s side in the American War of Independence. Anyone expecting anything remotely radical or groundbreaking here will however be disappointed; from its opening with a Columbian gang lord living in a mansion visited by rivals driving SUVs, this is a cliché-ridden, US action movie which moves from Paris to London, Berlin, Marrakesh and, finally, (Taipei doubling for) Shanghai.
The only real difference is that the central characters are women, and while five actresses of this calibre are watchable enough, they lack the punch of a Luc Besson heroine. Lucy (2014) undergoes evolutionary transformation, while Nikita (1990) has been raised within a security agency since birth. Or, again, Ana de Armas in the latest Bond outing No Time To Die (2021, Cary Joji Fukunaga) packs in so much grace and style in her fighting in her one sequence that you completely buy it.
The 355 women, however, have nothing about them in terms of physical prowess that makes you believe they could fight a man one on one and win, and if you’re going to go down that route, you need some element to sell it. True, Khadisah is a computer expert, so that’s believable enough, while Graciela is a psychologist out of her depth in an action scenario, which also works. All the opposition are men though, and quite simply it’s hard to believe these women can best their male adversaries in a fight.
That said, the early sequence of Mace pursuing Marie and stolen rucksack through the Paris streets and Metro is genuinely impressive and exciting, arguably more so than anything else in the film. As a male viewer, I thought the 355 concept had potential, but here it’s wasted by a lazy falling back on cliché. The one actress whose fighting skills really impress (and arguably has a genuine edge over male combatants) is the Bingbing Fan, presumably due the the fact that the Chinese (and many other Oriental nationalities) seem to have martial arts in the blood, but she gets hardly any screen time to demonstrate and what little she gets has her battling Western actors lacking skills comparable to hers.
In short, this could have been something very special, not least with the high calibre of female acting talent involved, but sadly a reliance on well-worn cliché and a lack of vision let it down.
The 355 is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, January 7th.