I’m all for action films with woman leads. And that’s what Jessica Chastain and the cast of The 355 set out to make when they created a completely new action film that could speak directly to the audience. The movie undoubtedly does pass the Bechdel Test since the main cast is comprised of five women who interact with each other and not just about men. But it seems to fall into a lot of different traps and tropes along the way that makes it just a mediocre action film that doesn’t stand out at all.
Yes, The 355 has action, a lot of it. The movie follows Mace, a spy who has is the stereotypical spy type without any connections to the outside world. That of course is a problem in the movie according to any man she has interactions with. This, among other things, rubbed me the wrong way. The movie does make a point to feature women of different races, stages of life, and family situations are shown in the main cast. But they seem to not go much beyond their basic connections. The women’s motivation in life, beyond the mission, is to preserve their family, their relationships, and not much else. Which, while this may be a major motivator in many women’s lives – isn’t all they are. It seems like a very narrow, and possibly privileged view of what women will find as a motivating movie – when the result is instead a movie that could swap men in the role and not lose the spy movie feature. Or was that the point of the movie in general?
A few small nods to the action scenes however are in the majority of them, the women are shown to actually be wearing flats, clothing, and hair styles that would be conducive for fighting. They’re not just shown as soft women who men can throw around like ragdolls and can fight too – while their smaller body structures may be seen as a negative, they use it to their advantage in the fight. But other movies have done this with their main female leads by giving them a back story, or not relying on a general trope to motivate them through their mission.
Of the five women, Penelope Cruz’s character has the most to lose as an outsider whose family is put at risk. But that doesn’t stop her from joining up with the rag-tag group in the final scene. If her family was truly her motivation – she wouldn’t be standing there. Again, just a surface-level motivation that made the whole movie seem a bit weak overall.
For a movie that is two hours long, they seem to have filled it with the action scenes and forgot that the characters need to be more than surface deep. With five main leads, and one not coming in until the last third – they didn’t develop them well enough to feel a connection to them. Which honestly, is a shame with such a strong cast taking on the roles. It also provides a super quick, blink and you’ll miss it, explanation to the name of the movie right at the very end, something that they could have leaned into for a deeper story.
While The 355 can be fun at times, it was one that I think lost its purpose along the way. What was meant to be an empowering movie featuring some fantastic powerhouse actors, instead just because a bit of a slog.
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About The 355
A dream team of formidable female stars come together in a hard-driving original approach to the globe-trotting espionage genre The 355. When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, wild card CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown (Jessica Chastain) will need to join forces with rival badass German agent Marie (Diane Kruger) former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) and skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela (Penélope Cruz) on a lethal, breakneck mission to retrieve it, while also staying one-step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan), who is tracking their every move.