Representation is really not enough to justify lackluster action films. An all-female cast in a spy movie is barely a step away from an all female cast of an Oceans movie, or a Ghostbusters film. These films are boxes checked in the representation game, because that’s all they were trying to do. Director Simon Kinberg’s The 355, which was supposed to be the female equivalent to Mission Impossible, barely scratches the surface of what makes spy movies good.
Spy movies are no strangers to MacGuffin plot lines—Mission Impossible III’s Rabbit’s Foot nonsense was the biggest setback of that installment, though the cast’s chemistry, top tier villain, and generally cool action elements made up for it.
The 355’s MacGuffin plot involves a special decryption program that keeps changing hands. At least here, we know the stakes and why it’s a bad thing for terrorists to be able to remotely control airplanes. However, The 355 suffers from poorly executed action sequences and simple logistics that keep the MacGuffin moving.
On the hunt for the decryption dongle are our band of female heroes—CIA officer Mace (Jessica Chastain), DNI agent and psychologist Graciela Rivera (Penélope Cruz), German BND agent Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), former MI6 agent Khadijah Adiyeme (Lupita Nyong’o), and MSS agent Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing).
The characters lack fully realized personality traits, the film mostly sticking with bland archetypes to give everyone something to do. They each have some personal issues they’re dealing with while they’re on the hunt for the decryption program, but the film spends way too much time having their characters talk on the phone with their family members, giving them less time to interact with the people they’re sharing a screen with.
Whether it’s to add some sort of depth to their archetypal natures, the film ultimately doesn’t seem to care about their family life by end credits; tragedy strikes, but the emotional fallout for these characters are brushed aside in favor of a shallow Avengers Endgame-type female hero formation moment.
Mace’s romance with Sebastian Stan’s Nick is supposed to be the emotional lynchpin of the events surrounding the decryption macguffin but it spends little time actually invested in giving us any reason to care about them. In the film’s first moments, Mace says they’ve been best friends for years, yet they lack any chemistry in their interactions that make that even remotely believable.
The 355 also makes the mistake of casting big stars in crucial roles. Stan’s appearance here is too obvious; it’s distracting when he’s not on screen, and boring when he is, yet the film turns him into the major turning point in the action, a wrinkle that’s so transparent just 15 minutes into the film.
When your only goal is shortcutting representation, you’re going to miss the nuances that would make this venture a decent story. The 355 doesn’t care enough to fill in those nuances, instead creating a mediocre pathway for representation no one asked for.
The 355 is now playing in theaters. Watch the trailer here.