Bond has put the fearless female agents at the fore in his latest outing, No Time to Die. Although we have seen more active female agents filter through into mainstream films since the start of the millennium, from Charlotte Gray to Salt, we are yet to see all-female casts that do not form part of the Marvel Universe, say. This is where X-Men: Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg’s The 355 distinguishes itself and is instantly intriguing.
Not only that, but Kinberg’s historical nod in the title of ‘the 355’ refers to the code given to first unnamed female spy during the American Revolution. Added to that, his stellar cast of international leading ladies of Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz and Bingbing Fan is also a huge draw. What appears to have all the right ingredients for one kick-ass espionage flick feels a tad wanting as the ‘origins’ film must designate a good portion of the run-time introducing its characters’ backstories first, so that we may invest in them and their common mission. This only really comes to fruition in the latter half of the film when the action heats up.
Chastain of Zero Dark Thirty fame is CIA agent Mason ‘Mace’ Browne, assigned to retrieve a cyber device with an imminent global threat while posing as a married couple on honeymoon in Paris with partner Nick Fowler, played by Marvel star Sebastian Stan. Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez, who becomes Colombian in this, is our link to the first action scene set in the South American country. However, enter German agent Marie Schmidt in the French capital, played by Kruger, who is like a Duracell Bunny with an insatiable appetite for getting what she wants, driven by past demons.
We are also introduced in the same city to fellow Colombian DNU agent and psychologist Graciela, played by Cruz, followed by ‘retired’ MI6 computer whizz kid Khadijah, portrayed by Nyong’o in London. Bingbing Fan enters the story in the energetic second half as Chinese MSS spy Lin Mi Sheng who has her own ulterior motive for the device. All of this happens as said top-secret weapon travels with global supervillains and a turncoat agent around the world, including from Morocco to Shanghai. It is truly a screenplay to rival Bourne and the Mission Impossible franchise.
The film-makers have absolutely assembled the right all-female cast who are thrilling to watch in action as they begin working as a team – in fact, Kruger could easily helm solo any future Bourne-style action film because she exudes all the energy, intelligence and sporadic vulnerability needed as Marie. Fans of Kruger need no convincing here, as the actor has a inventory of successful action and espionage roles to her name.
The action scenes in The 355 do feel repetitive, even borrow from other such franchises, but are nevertheless fascinating to watch females physically holding their own against male counterparts, as the girls get close in on their target, while adding a touch of 007 glamour to the proceedings. Chastain can once again be relied to give a convincing screen lead and borrows from her Oscar-nominated Zero Dark Thirty character Maya in this as Mace. Nyong’o is entertaining as a no-nonsense Q and Bond rolled into one, while Bingbing Fan brings the elegance and mystery to the equation. In fact, Lin Mi Sheng’s backstory is the only one yet to be revealed. Cruz’s Graciela is the most relatable, as she is dragged into each dangerous situation and is also a parent, adding another layer of liability to the already tense equation.
Another cute but not utterly convincing story motive is making Graciela the ‘comical’ one, the character employed to lighten intense moments. The psychologist is initially caught in a blaze of crossfire but regains her confidence and her purpose in the group, allowing Graciela to use her professional training to decipher its whereabouts. It is unclear whether the hint of comedy from Cruz’s character is intentional by the writers. If it is, it needs to be a touch more forthcoming.
Where the film stops and starts in momentum is having to focus on and depict a character’s origins, which to be fair to Kinberg is unavoidable and unfortunate, however compelling the idea of a very real-life cyber threat is to string the narrative along.
Ironically, this film that has been delayed now needs the sequel it literally begs for in the final confrontation scene to finish what it starts. Indeed, The 355 Part 2 is the film we want to watch right now, and sincerely hope we get to see.