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Critics Consensus

It has a stellar cast and it's conceptually progressive, but The 355 squanders it all on a forgettable story, unremarkably told. Read critic reviews

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A great cast and lots of action make The 355 a solid option for viewers seeking a fun thriller. Read audience reviews

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When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, wild card CIA agent Mason "Mace" Brown (Oscar®-nominated actress Jessica Chastain) will need to join forces with rival badass German agent Marie (Diane Kruger, In the Fade), former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah (Oscar® winner Lupita Nyong'o), and skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela (Oscar® winner 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, X-Men: Days of Future Past), who is tracking their every move. As the action rockets around the globe from the cafes of Paris to the markets of Morocco to the opulent auction houses of Shanghai, the quartet of women will forge a tenuous loyalty that could protect the world--or get them killed.

Rating: PG-13 (Sequences of Strong Violence|Brief Strong Language|Suggestive Material)

Genre: Action, Mystery & thriller

Original Language: English

Director: Simon Kinberg

Producer: Kelly Carmichael , Jessica Chastain , Simon Kinberg

Writer: Theresa Rebeck , Simon Kinberg

Release Date (Theaters): Jan 7, 2022  wide

Release Date (Streaming): Feb 21, 2022

Box Office (Gross USA): $14.6M

Runtime: 2h 2m

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Production Co: Universal Pictures, Freckle Films, FilmNation Entertainment

Sound Mix: Dolby Digital

Aspect Ratio: Scope (2.35:1)

Cast & Crew

Jessica Chastain

Mace, Mason Browne

Sebastian Stan

Nick Fowler

Penélope Cruz

Graciela Rivera

Lupita Nyong'o

Khadijah Adiyeme

Diane Kruger

Marie Schmidt

Fan Bingbing

Lin Mi Sheng

Jason Flemyng

Elijah Clarke

Pablo Scola

Edgar Ramírez

Simon Kinberg

Theresa Rebeck


Kelly Carmichael

Richard Hewitt

Executive Producer

Tim Maurice-Jones


John Gilbert

Film Editor

Original Music

Simon Elliott

Production Design

Art Director

Anna Lynch-Robinson

Set Decoration

Stephanie Collie

Costume Designer

Mounir Saguia

Wang Rui Huan

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film review 355

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“The 355” amasses some of the most talented and electrifying actresses in the world, then squanders them in a generic and forgettable action picture.

Jessica Chastain is among them, and she helped shepherd the film from the beginning as one of its producers. It’s easy to see what the appeal is here: A glamorous and globe-trotting spy thriller in which women get to work together, kick ass, and save the day for a change. One of the through-lines in “The 355” is the way in which these characters get out from under the oppression of condescending mansplainers and actually get things done. You don’t have to be a gorgeous secret agent to relate to that dynamic.

And yet that notion is one of so many elements in director and co-writer Simon Kinberg ’s film that feel frustratingly half-baked. There’s not much to these women besides a couple of character traits, and the moments when they might reveal something deeper or more substantial about themselves are fleeting. The muscular physicality of the action sequences—the backbone of any film like this—is unsatisfying. Shaky camerawork and quick edits obscure the choreography and effort that went into staging the elaborate chases and fight scenes, making these moments more annoying than exciting.

Even the costume design is a let-down. In Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger , and Penelope Cruz , you have four actresses of significant craft and range who also happen to be stunners capable of wearing any kind of wardrobe choice with style and grace. Except for a high-dollar auction in Shanghai, “The 355” misses the opportunity to dress these women in show-stopping ensembles as they travel from city to city, which would have heightened the sense of glittering escapism. As for the film’s fifth star, Bingbing Fan, she’s barely there until the film’s very end, although its marketing would suggest otherwise.

What they’re all after is the blandest of McGuffins in the script from Kinberg (“X-Men: Dark Phoenix”) and longtime TV writer Theresa Rebeck (“NYPD Blue,” “Smash”). It’s a flash drive containing a data key that can wreak havoc with the touch of a few keystrokes: shut down power grids and destabilize financial markets, launch nukes, and send satellites tumbling from the sky. Not that it matters what it does—it’s the thing that sets the plot in motion—but this happens to be a particularly uninspired bad-guy do-hickey. It’s so amorphous, you never truly feel the threat of its potential danger.

At the film’s start, Chastain’s hotheaded CIA operative, Mason “Mace” Brown, and her partner, Nick ( Sebastian Stan ), pose as newlyweds to meet up in Paris with the Colombian intelligence agent who has the device (an underused Edgar Ramirez ). (Chastain and Stan, who previously worked together on “ The Martian ,” are supposedly best friends who are secretly in love with each other, but they have zero chemistry.) Kruger, as bad-ass German operative Marie, intercepts it instead, leading to one of the movie’s many dizzying action sequences. Mace brings in her reluctant former MI6 pal, the brilliant hacker Khadijah (Nyong’o), to trace its location. But Cruz, as the Colombian psychologist Dr. Graciela Rivera, also gets dragged into the fray; implausibly, she was sent into the field to find Ramirez’s character and bring him home.

Eventually it becomes clear that all of these women must set aside their differences and team up to find the device: "They get this, they start World War III,” Mace says to Khadijah in one of the movie’s many, many examples of clunky exposition. But first, a fistfight between Mace and Marie involving frozen seafood, which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. And the moment in which they all stand around, screaming inane dialogue and pointing guns at each other before reaching an uneasy détente, could not be staged or shot more awkwardly.

One of the film’s most egregious sins is the way it wastes Cruz’s formidable presence and ability. She plays the frightened fish out of water, eager to get home to her husband and sons. As if her character’s inclusion weren’t contrived enough, she’s then asked to be cowering and meek, which aren’t exactly her strong suits.

And yet, there are a couple of scenes that indicate how much better “The 355” could have been. At one point, after achieving a victory, they all sit around drinking beer and swapping war stories, and the blossoming camaraderie on display makes you wish there were more of that. The idea of them rejecting their male-dominated agencies, being on their own, and having to rely on each other for survival is also intriguing—like a more violent version of “9 to 5.”

“James Bond never has to deal with real life,” Mace tells Khadijah at one point. “James Bond always ends up alone,” Khadijah responds, in an exchange that inches closer to something resembling real and relatable human experience. Somewhere in here is the seed of the idea that inspired Chastain in the first place: exploring the sacrifices women often make when they choose career over family, and chasing the tantalizing fantasy that we can have it all. But then the insistent, drum-heavy score starts up again, overwhelming everything, and it’s back to the next shootout or explosion.

Now playing in theaters.

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for RogerEbert.com since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series "Ebert Presents At the Movies" opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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Film credits.

The 355 movie poster

The 355 (2022)

Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material.

122 minutes

Jessica Chastain as Mason 'Mace' Brown

Lupita Nyong'o as Khadijah

Penélope Cruz as Graciela

Diane Kruger as Marie

Fan Bingbing as Lin Mi Sheng

Sebastian Stan as Nick

Edgar Ramírez

Emilio Insolera as Hacker

Leo Staar as Grady

  • Simon Kinberg

Writer (story by)

  • Theresa Rebeck


  • Tim Maurice-Jones
  • John Gilbert

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Diane Kruger, Jessica Chastain and Lupita Nyong'o in The 355.

The 355 review – Jessica Chastain and her spy gang just don’t add up

The combined might of Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Penélope Cruz can’t enliven this lumbering action thriller

D iane Kruger slapping Jessica Chastain across the face with a frozen fish should be funny. The scene, sadly not played for laughs, is one of many wasted opportunities in this lacklustre action thriller. Chastain’s Mace and Kruger’s Marie, along with Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) and Graciela (Penélope Cruz), are international spies who team up to retrieve a “deadly cybertool” that’s fallen into the wrong hands.

Simon Kinberg’s film feels aggressively focus-grouped for the girl-boss crowd. “James Bond never had to deal with real life,” says mother-of-two Graciela with an eye roll. Winking dialogue about how women have been erased from history is similarly crowbarred in. Kruger smoulders as a German goth with daddy issues, and the only agent with any sort of swagger; Nyong’o, resplendent in a sweater vest, plays a tech specialist. Cruz is as luminous as ever, despite the fact that her role is mostly limited to crying and holding the phone. “We need another round… or like 10!” jokes Mace. Not even a post-mission pint in Morocco can liven up the gang’s tepid chemistry.

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  • Penélope Cruz
  • Lupita Nyong'o
  • Diane Kruger

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film review 355

‘The 355’ Review: Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, and Penélope Cruz in a Vigorous Formula Action Spy Flick

It's a generic but energized out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire thriller that mostly holds your attention.

By Owen Gleiberman

Owen Gleiberman

Chief Film Critic

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The 355

It’s not usually a good idea to grade a movie on the curve of when it’s being released. But in the case of “ The 355 ,” one is tempted to make an exception and say: For a first-week-of-January thriller, it isn’t bad. Early January tends to be a dumping ground, because the prestige awards contenders are still opening wide; it’s when you’ll get a shark drama that’s too lousy to be a trashy summer movie. But “The 355” is a vigorous formula action spy flick with an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire plot that mostly holds your attention, periodically revs the senses, and gives its actors just enough to work with to put a basic feminine spin on the genre. I make a point of that because the film does too.

The heroines are a quartet of espionage veterans who come from different countries but share a certain rogue mystique. Mace ( Jessica Chastain ), who works for the CIA, is assigned to retrieve a data-key drive that can do anything (blow up a plane in midair, penetrate any closed computer system) and is therefore ripe to be stolen by an international band of criminal entrepreneurs. In Paris, where she’s supposed to pick up the drive from a Colombian mercenary (Édgar Ramirez), she’s accompanied by her long-time agent colleague, Nick ( Sebastian Stan ), who suggests that they shore up their undercover identities as honeymooning rubes by actually becoming a couple. To our surprise, Mace agrees — but thanks to the monkey wrench thrown into their plan by Marie (Diane Kruger), a rival German BND agent, the union doesn’t last.

For a while, Mace and Marie square off like the edgy renegades they are. But they’re soon joined by two fellow agents: Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), a semi-retired MI6 operative who works on the cutting edge of cyber-espionage, and Graciela (Penélope Cruz), the group’s token soft case, a Colombian DNI agent who’s really a psychologist who specializes in treating the trauma of her fellow agents.

The four join forces to hunt down the drive, a countdown-to-the-apocalypse-with-MacGuffin plot speckled with well-staged overwrought action. These ace operatives have been trained to do it all: windpipe-bashing combat, existential chases through the crowded squares of Morocco, drop-of-the-hat surveillance and, of course, flaunting an attitude of utilitarian iciness that’s a match for any male movie spy. The element that comes closest to giving the film a personality is that most of them aren’t satisfied with the lone-wolf bravado that comes of being an international woman of mystery. Their view seems to be: We’ve got the moves like Bond, but sociopathic isolation is for suckers.

As action storytelling, “The 355” is generic, over-the-top, and 20 minutes too long, kind of like a Netflix movie. But it’s the well-made version of that corporate brew. Chastain has recently been showing a lighter side; her performance in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” has an operatic playfulness, and in “The 355,” which she’s one of the producers of, you can feel the pleasure she takes in letting her hair down and biting into the role of haughty action heroine. Kruger has the moxie to play Marie as a standoffish neurotic, Nyong’o creates an unusually emotional hacker, and Cruz, as the one who’s more devoted to her family than to global realpolitik, proves the sweetest of wild cards. The less revealed about what happens to Sebastian Stan’s Nick the better, though he plays it with a baby-faced malice that’s hard to resist.

In the second half, the director, Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Dark Phoenix”), takes his heroines to Shanghai, where they have to retrieve the drive from an art auction that’s a cover for a dark-web bidding war, which makes the film feel a bit like a heist thriller. So does the arrival of Bingbing Fan as a Chinese undercover agent who joins the team. But no “Ocean’s” sequel ever had this much machine-gun battle. Kinberg pads the film out with what some might call bravura action scenes, but while they’re tightly choreographed and edited, the fact that we haven’t seen women go through these paces nearly as often as men doesn’t make the scenes any less heavy (or noisy) in their bombast. The idea, of course, is that the action is going to sell the movie. But you have to wonder: If “The 355,” named for an anonymous female agent during the time of the American Revolution, were closer to a movie like “Widows,” which it sometimes resembles, and further from an “Expendables” sequel, it might actually have been more commercial. A January movie doesn’t have to give us too much of an okay thing.

Reviewed online, Jan. 5, 2022. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 122 MIN.

  • Production: A Universal Pictures release of an SK Genre, Film Nation Entertainment, Freckle Films production. Producers: Kelly Carmichael, Jessica Chastain, Simon Kinberg. Executive producer: Richard Hewitt.
  • Crew: Director: Simon Kinberg. Screenplay: Theresa Rebeck, Simon Kinberg. Camera: Tim Maurice-Jones. Editors: John Gilbert, Lee Smith. Music: Tom Holkenborg.
  • With: Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Penélope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Bingbing Fan, Jason Flemyng, Pablo Scola, Édgar Ramirez.

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Jessica chastain, penelope cruz and lupita nyong’o in ‘the 355’: film review.

Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing also star in Simon Kinberg’s globe-trotting espionage thriller about an all-female group of operatives chasing a deadly cyber weapon.

By David Rooney

David Rooney

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'The 355'

There’s ample action but less excitement in The 355 , a production launched with great fanfare at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival that Universal is now dropping on the marketplace with minimal fuss. The idea for an espionage thriller led by an ensemble of women was hatched by producer and star Jessica Chastain while serving on the Cannes competition jury the previous year, sparked by the billboards lining the Croisette touting potential blockbusters, mostly fronted by male leads. The impulse to put kickass women in charge for a change is commendable, but the journeyman result suggests the pitfalls of starting with the packaging instead of the storytelling inspiration.

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Given the genesis of the project, perhaps the biggest disappointment is that rather than put a woman behind the camera, Chastain recruited Simon Kinberg , whose extensive credits as producer and screenwriter are more impressive than his sole previous directing gig, on the 2019 X-Men franchise entry, Dark Phoenix .

Release date : Friday, Jan. 7 Cast : Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Édgar Ramírez, Sebastian Stan Director : Simon Kinberg Screenwriters : Theresa Rebeck, Simon Kinberg; story by Rebeck

He co-wrote The 355 with playwright Theresa Rebeck, who has a long history with TV cop procedurals, from NYPD Blue to Law & Order: Criminal Intent . But its thinly drawn characters and rote, often logistically unsound plot mechanics make this an unlikely bid to bring distaff energy to Bond and Bourne territory, notwithstanding the optimistic closing scene leaving the door ajar for sequels.

The title is a code-name nod to a real-life female operative who conveyed key information about British troop movements to American generals serving under George Washington in the Revolutionary War. The aim, by extension, is to provide recognition for overlooked women working behind the scenes in all manner of fields. In this case, that’s women who put themselves in danger to protect the rest of the world from it.

An elementary feminist perspective is baked into the material, from the hard-learned lessons of women placing their trust in the wrong men to the short-sighted disdain of a male villain berating his colleague for being outmaneuvered by “a bunch of girls.” But the real backbone of the story is female solidarity — with even women who start out from adversarial positions discovering the benefits of pooling their strengths and resources for a common goal.

That goal involves keeping an advanced technological device out of enemy hands. When a data key that can access and shut down any closed system on the global net is seized by Colombian intelligence officer Luis Rojas (Édgar Ramírez) during a deal that goes awry, he sees an opportunity to set himself up for retirement by selling the cyber weapon to the CIA.

Hotheaded loose cannon Mason “Mace” Browne (Chastain) is dispatched from Langley to Paris with fellow agent Nick ( Sebastian Stan ), a close friend who went through training with her. Their relationship has been strictly platonic, but since they’re posing as Iowan honeymooners, Nick puts the romantic moves on her. Although Mace doesn’t want to mess up the friendship, her resistance lasts about a minute, which undercuts the main character by putting girlish vulnerability in the way of her professional instincts.

Naturally, the mission doesn’t go as planned. German operative Marie Schmidt ( Diane Kruger ) snatches the bag she believes contains the device and parallel chases ensue, with Nick in pursuit of Luis above ground while Mace hunts down Marie in the Métro tunnels. An unfortunate casualty ups the emotional stakes for Mace, who brings in her former MI6 ally, Khadijah Adiyeme (Lupita Nyong’o), an ace computer hacker who has sworn off spycraft for a quieter life of romantic bliss.

Meanwhile, Colombian psychologist Dr. Graciela Rivera (Penélope Cruz) is sent by her government to bring the rogue Luis back into line and return the cyber weapon to them. But before she can get him out of France, they are set upon by armed thugs working for the most colorless mercenary in recent screen memory (Jason Flemyng). At one point a character notes that unlike the Cold War or the War on Terror, cyber warfare pits them against an invisible enemy. But that doesn’t make the bad guys here any more interesting.

With both Mace and Marie having failed to retrieve the device for their respective intelligence organizations, they are forced to quit beating the bejesus out of each other and team up. Horrified by all the gunfire and violence, Graciela just wants to return home to her precious family. But her fingerprint recognition on a tracking device and the target now on her back oblige her to tag along.

As much as the film advocates for female empowerment, the separation of the characters according to their family and romantic affiliations, or lack of them, seems a tad reductive.

Mace has always been a lone wolf and she meets her match in Marie, whose fiercely solitary nature and reluctance to trust anyone were set in stone when she discovered at age 15 that her father was a double agent working for the Russians. That makes her the meatiest of the characters, and Kruger’s scowling physicality in the role makes her the thriller’s most dynamic presence. All the actresses bring considerable charisma to the film but Rebeck and Kinberg’s script gives them no shading. More humor in the brief bonding moments that punctuate the accelerated action interludes would have gone a long way.

The story jumps from France to Morocco, where the women use the literal cloak of female invisibility to their advantage in a crowded marketplace. But double-crosses and underestimated antagonists mean the device keeps eluding them, eventually turning up in a dark-web auction in Shanghai. The glamorous high-roller art event that fronts that sale allows for a sleek wardrobe change (yay, fight scenes in wigs and heels!) and 007-style gadgetry with jewelry cams. The auction also brings out an enigmatic figure in Lin Mi Sheng ( Fan Bingbing ), who appears to be one step ahead of the women until the explosive climax in a luxury hotel.

Kinberg handles the fast-paced action capably, with muscular camerawork from Tim Maurice-Jones, propulsive scoring from Tom Holkenberg and busy editing from John Gilbert and Lee Smith. The fight choreography isn’t exactly inventive, but it’s serviceable enough, with Chastain, Kruger and Fan, in particular, getting to show off some sharp moves. It’s all quite watchable and not without suspense, but the characters reveal too little emotional depth or complexity to make us care much about either their losses or their hard-fought victories.

By the standards of recent female-driven action like Widows , Wonder Woman , The Old Guard , Black Widow and Birds of Prey — not to mention longtime Asian favorites like The Heroic Trio — The 355 is a pedestrian number.

Full credits

Distributor: Universal Production companies: Freckle Films, SK Genre Films, Universal Pictures, FilmNation Entertainment Cast: Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Édgar Ramírez, Sebastian Stan, Jason Flemyng, Sylvester Groth, John Douglas Thompson, Leo Starr Director: Simon Kinberg Screenwriters: Theresa Rebeck, Simon Kinberg; story by Rebeck Producers: Jessica Chastain, Kelly Carmichael, Simon Kinberg Executive producers: Richard Hewitt, Esmond Ren, Wang Rui Director of photography: Tim Maurice-Jones Production designer: Simon Elliott Costume designer: Stephanie Collie Music: Tom Holkenberg Editors: John Gilbert, Lee Smith Visual effects supervisor: Keith Devlin Casting: Avy Kaufman

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The 355 Review

The 355

Producer and star Jessica Chastain and director Simon Kinberg team up here to give the world a charismatic, female-centric team of super-spies to balance all those male-led spy thrillers. You just wish the story had been as innovative as the casting, and the twists less screamingly obvious to even those without secret-agent training.

Chastain plays Mace, a CIA agent sent to retrieve the sort of crypto-doomsday device familiar from a thousand other spy capers. She and partner Nick ( Sebastian Stan ) are interrupted by the BND’s Marie ( Diane Kruger ) and the device is lost to bad actors, in the geopolitical rather than entertainment sense. Cue a globe-trotting quest, as Mace and Marie team up to stop a world war.

The 355

These spies are both fierce and fun: Mace is spiky and competent but not without her vulnerabilities, and Marie is — as she admits — a mess. Computer genius Khadijah ( Lupita Nyong'o ) is sensibly wary of returning to the field when asked to assist them, and the press-ganged Graciela ( Penélope Cruz ) is refreshingly terrified and just wants to go home to her kids.

It's all fun and games until, in its last moments, it succumbs to the increasingly common disease of sequelitis.

The film's best scenes involve these four holing up in a safe house to negotiate their boundaries and formulate a plan; it's weakest when they spout girl-power platitudes and when a deus ex China turns up to move the story forward six paces in a single bound in the final act. Not that Fan Bingbing 's Chinese agent Lin is ineffective; she just feels grafted suddenly on. And, just as women have been asking for decent roles in male-led films for decades, it would be nice to see some nuance for Stan and Edgar Ramírez here, and more surprises in their arcs.

Still, it's all fun and games until, in its last moments, this film succumbs to the increasingly common disease of sequelitis, with a coda so determined to launch a franchise that it fails to be fully satisfying now. These women are effective and fierce; leave it to audiences to decide whether we want them on another impossible mission.

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‘The 355’ Review: Exile in Bondville

Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing star in an espionage thriller that’s slick but banal.

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From left, Penélope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and Lupita Nyong’o in “The 355.”

By Amy Nicholson

Two centuries before James Bond 007, there was Agent 355, a lady spy on George Washington’s side during the American Revolutionary War who helped identify the turncoat Benedict Arnold . Her name was hidden from history, but her code number has been claimed by this slick and grim espionage flick that aspires to become an all-star, all-female franchise — the Spice Girls version of Bond. Jessica Chastain, a producer and star of the movie, even used Twitter to crowdsource casting suggestions for a “#BondBoy.”

Why not? But we’re going to need a better plot than one built around a bunch of heroes and terrorists chasing after yet another doomsday gizmo. Chastain’s Mace Browne, a C.I.A. workaholic repulsed by romantic commitment, is hellbent on securing a one-of-a-kind cyber-whatsit able to hack into and hijack any computer-controlled device on the planet, from a power grid to a plane. This device could start World War III, Mace warns an MI6 computer whiz, Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), in a rusty clunker of a line that warns the audience that the only novelty in Simon Kinberg’s thriller is the cast. It doesn’t take a super sleuth to fill in the rest. There will be lectures on teamwork, confessions squeezed out “the easy way or the hard way” and speeches about the invisible front lines of modern warfare, all rote hubbub building toward a blowout gun battle that makes sure to set aside a bad boyfriend for a sequel.

But what a cast. Chastain and Nyong’o rumble with Diane Kruger, peer pressure Penélope Cruz and are struck dumb by Fan Bingbing , who saunters in halfway through to shake things up. Individually, the women represent the differing national security interests of the United States, England, Germany, Colombia and China; their pitiful male colleagues, however — the lovesick partner (Sebastian Stan) who uses a sting operation to make Mace playact as his fiancée, the distrustful boss (Sylvester Groth) who diagnoses Kruger’s near-feral street fighter with daddy issues — make a case for the women to form a feminist Brawlers Without Borders.

Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck’s screenplay races through five continents, and as many betrayals and switcheroos. (The cinematographer, Tim Maurice-Jones, seems most inspired by Shanghai’s iridescent neon blues.) The filmmaking deserves credit for refusing to leer as the ladies convincingly kick and punch — all focus is on the stunts, not on sex appeal.

Yet there’s a sense that “The 355” felt forced to pick between being sincere or being fun. It chose solemnity. As a result, it’s flat-footed even when the setups yearn to be playful. Viewers are not invited to giggle when a pursuit detours into a men-only bathhouse, or at a surreal moment in an undercover sequence when Chastain rips off her red wig disguise to reveal … her own identical red hair. The drums thunder as though they’re dead-serious about proving that women can make an expensive adventure that’s every bit as banal as the ones that boys crank out every month with basically the same plot. At least Cruz is allowed to get a laugh in a scene where her married soccer mom learns to flirt with a patsy. The twinkle in her eyes looks just like Sean Connery’s seductive gleam.

The 355 Rated PG-13 for copious male corpses. Running time: 2 hours 4 minutes. In theaters.

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The 355 Is Proof That Women Can Make Middling Action Movies, Too

Portrait of Alison Willmore

No actor working today is haunted by the Strong Female Character the way Jessica Chastain is haunted by the Strong Female Character. You know the type — an aloof, hyper-competent exterior hiding some instance of formative trauma, and no time for anything so frivolous as romance unless it leads to betrayal or tragedy. To be a woman working as an actor is to engage in an ongoing, exhausting quest for material that’s strongly written, or at least not rife with lingering stereotypes. Chastain’s not exempt from that struggle, but the more power she’s had over the parts she chooses, the more she’s gravitated towards ones that, in their attempt to counter sexist clichés, have created a whole set of new ones. The character she plays in the lady spy drama The 355 , a project she proposed and produced, is a steely CIA agent who’s introduced cheerfully beating up a colleague at the Langley gym when a new assignment arrives. Mace is a loner whose life revolves around her job and whose only confidant is her partner and best friend Nick (Sebastian Stan), who she falls into bed with right before the supposedly easy operation they’re on goes wrong and appears to leave him dead.

I’m making this sound more dire than it actually is. The 355 isn’t a total disaster — how can it be, when its cast includes Lupita Nyong’o as Khadijah, a tech-specialist who’s formerly of MI6, and Penélope Cruz as Graciela, a psychologist working for Colombia’s DNI? But its dullness somehow feels worse than grand failure, as though its aims were only to prove that a bunch of the most famous women on Earth can come together to make an action film just as uninspired and boring as men can. The 355 was directed by X-Men: Dark Phoenix ’s Simon Kinberg, who wrote the script with Smash creator Theresa Rebeck, and he’s genuinely terrible with fight sequences, which is a real issue in a movie that has a lot of them. Set pieces are chopped to barely legible bits in an effort to disguise stunt doubles, punches look blatantly pulled, it’s frequently unclear where characters are in relation to one another during chases, and somehow these globe-trotting badasses are all made to look awkward when carrying a gun.

Kinberg’s only other directing credit is for the aimless X-Men: Dark Phoenix , in which Chastain played the villain Vuk. His utter lack of any affinity for this kind of material speaks to the movie’s conflicted aims. Despite pulling together a Fox Force Five–esque ensemble of international stars — Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing round out the international ensemble as German BND member Marie and MSS agent Lin Mi Sheng — The 355 isn’t a stylized exercise reveling in the fabulousness of its cast. Aside from some nifty suits on Nyong’o, there’s shockingly little of the sensory pleasure, much less the fun you’d get from a Bond movie. The film aims to be something closer to Bourne, with its chase sequences on stolen motorbikes and a whole middle sequence set in Morocco, but it has none of Paul Greengrass’s kinetic brilliance or, failing that, the choreography that’s made more recent films from David Leitch and Chad Stahelski so thrilling. The 355 is determinedly without thrills, though as its characters chase a tech MacGuffin that can crash planes and bring down computer systems, they do trudge through their respective bits of backstory as though it were a chore to get out of the way.

Mace contends with the loss of the only person in her life. Graciela frets about her husband and kids back home. Khadijah has a partner who actually knows about her former life in the field. Marie (Kruger) has issues surrounding the father she turned in herself as a traitor. And Lin Mi Sheng (Fan) is the kind of personality-free embodiment of Chinese power that occasionally gets popped into would-be blockbusters now despite feeling insulting to everyone involved. The script includes hoary phrasing as though it’s required: “We can do it the easy way, or we can do it the hard way,” Mace tells a suspect before she and the other women interrogate and torture him. “That’s the thing with partners — they get killed, or they kill you,” Marie intones during a lull in the non-action. None of this is as painful as the coda, when the film leans into the girlbossery that it previously mostly skirted, with Mace declaring to a foe that the identity of Agent 355, the female spy who worked for George Washington during the American Revolution, remains unknown because “someone knew her name, they just didn’t want the world to know it.” The 355 is, ultimately, a movie about how women are underappreciated in their roles of using violence to prop up their respective states, and its climax finds Mace triumphantly sending someone off to a black site after besting him by drinking her liquor straight. She’s not like the other girls, you see? Yaasss.

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